MEMPHIS STATE UNIVERSITY
RECENT TENNESSEE POLITICAL HISTORY
INTERVIEWS WITH JAMES CUMMINGS
MARCH 25, 1978
BY CHARLES W. CRAWFORD
TRANSCRIBED - MARY JANE MORGAN
ORAL HISTORY RESEARCH OFFICE
MEMPHIS STATE UNIVERSITY
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THIS IS THE ORAL HISTORY RESEARCH OFFICE OF MEMPHIS STATE UNIVERSITY,
THIS PORJECT IS "THE POLITICAL HISTORY OF TENNESSEE." THE DATE IS
MARCH 25, 1978, AND THE INTERVIEW IS WITH SENATOR JAMES CUMMINGS IN
WOODBURY, TENNESSEE. THE INTERVIEW IS BY DR. CHARLES W. CRAWFORD
AND IS TRANSCRIBED BY MARY JANE MORGAN. INTERVIEW I.
DR. CRAWFORD: Senator Cummings , we like to get a little
biographical background about you, your
family and childhood and education.
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Here in Cannon County, my people lived
here since about 1810 or '12. My great
grandfather, Warren Cummings, came from the East and settled in this
county, and lived here until he died. And he became a county offi-
cial during the war years. And in 1870 he was a delegate to the
state constitutional convention. He had a son named James H. Cum-
mings, for whom I'm named, who was a practicing lawyer here in the
county, served several terms in the Tennessee General Assembly. A
couple of my uncles have been practicing lawyers, and my older bro-
ther was a practicing attorney here at Woodbury. I married a native
Cannon County girl, Esther McCoone, whose forebearers were settlers
in this community three or four years before mine. And we were not
blessed with any children.
My father was a farmer, justice of the peace. I grew up on a
farm right here adjacent to Woodbury, and attended the Woodbury Acad-
emy, which was a school conducted by a schoolmaster from Canada.
When I got through with that course I taught school for a couple
of years in a one-room school, one teacher and one room school here
in the county, and I had a salary of $35 a month and saved enough
money to go to a business college.
Dr. CRAUFORD; What years did you teach school, Mr.
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Uh, in 1908 and 1909. I remember it
easily because we were at noon recess
having a game of marbles in the dirt road in front of the school-
house when a man came along and told us that Senator Carmack had
been killed on the streets of Nashville. That was 1908.
DR. CRAWFORD: Yes, sir. You were teaching school then.
SENATOR CUMMINGS: I was teaching school at the age of eigh-
DR. CRAWFORD: Well, let's see. He was shot by Duncan
and Robert Cooper.
SENATOR CUMMINGS: He was shot on the street, and Duncan
Cooper and his son Robin were indicted for
murder. And Robin was acquitted — and Duncan Cooper took his appeal
to the Supreme Court, and it was affirmed. And on the same day
Governor Patterson pardoned him. And out of that came the disturbing
situation with Tennessee politics. Carmack and Patterson had been
candidates for the governorship. And the whiskey, liquor, dramatic
issue, came to the top of the pot. Patterson was a local option man;
Carmack advocated prohibition laws. And it was very heated and
after his pardon of Duncan Cooper, after Governor Patterson pardoned
Duncan Coooper, the uprising came in politics. Governor Patterson
gave up his nomination and they called in Bob Taylor of the United
States Senate to run for governor, and the Democrats in the hope that
his popularity would withstand the assault that was being made. But
in spite of Senator Taylor's popularity, Ben W. Hooper was elected;
a Republican from Newport, Tennessee, was elected governor, the first
Republican governor elected since Hawkins, I guess — Civil War, follow-
ing the Civil War. And Governor Hooper served for two terms. That
was the end of that era.
DR. CRAWFORD: Why would you say that even Bob Taylor
could not win in 1010?
SENATOR CUMilNGS: The issue became — he couldn't rid himself
of the opposition to Patterson. And the
whiskey issue — prohibition issue rose to the top of the pot. And
Patterson forces had been instrumental in nominating for election in
August of that year a judiciary that was alledged to be politically
minded. And Patterson and the Supreme Court . . . and they nominated
and elected an independent judiciary. And it just went right on and
Hooper was elected on the Republican ticket, and even the popularity
of Governor Taylor couldn't stem the tide. I was just a young man at
that time, but I remember it very well.
DR. CRAWFORD: Do you remember anything much about those
four years of Ben Hooper's administration?
No I do not. -*■ was not -^ n state govern-
ment. And I just recall it. Years and
years after that, I served in legislature with Governor Hooper.
He was an elected member of the legislature from Cocke County.
But I have not very much except that it was predominantly a fusion
legislature composed of rebel Democrats who were voting Democrat
to the Repiiblicans, and Carmack was the hero of the era. And that
was when his monument was put at the entrance of the Capitol. Most
prominent place, notwithstanding three presidents of the United States
that we'd had. Carmack* s statue took the place of prominence, at the
entrance of the Capitol, as you know.
DR. CRAWFORD: Uh-huh. And has anyone ever tried to remove
SENATOR CUTC1IHGS: Yes, during my term of legislature, an
effort was made when they built the tunnel
to the Capitol, entrance tunnel, to remove Carmack's statue, and
place it at some less conspicuous place. But that was not success-
ful. I was among those that didn't want to create the disturbance
of moving it. It had been placed there by the Legislature at the
time. And Carmack had a son, lived in my district, Ned Carmack,
young Carmack, and for various reasons I was one of those that stood
in the way of the movement, of the replacement, placing it at a less
conspicuous place. And it was not placed, it's still there. Right
above the tunnel entrance, as you recall it.
DR. CRAWFORD: Yes sir.
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Then I continued here in county office
until my chancellor, Governor Albert
H. Roberts, became a candidate for governor, and I joined his head-
quarters force and was with him.
When did you get elected to the county
office, Mr. Cummings?
I was elected to the county office in
What was that office?
Circuit Court Clerk.
Okay. And that's what you were doing
when . . .
During the Hooper administration.
Yes. When A. H. Roberts decided to
run for governor.
And he was chancellor.
He was chancellor of this chancery division
of which Cannon County was a part. He lived
DR. CRAWFORD: Where was it he lived?
SENATOR CUMMINGS: At Livingston, a far-flung chancery division of
fourteen or fifteen counties of which Cannon
was one. I accompanied him in during his campaign for governor. He
was successful, and following his inauguration during his term I went
to Nashville at his suggestion.
DR. CRAWFORD: Would you tell what you did in his campaign
in 1913, Sir?
SENATOR CUMMINGS: During his campaign in 1918 when the road
system over our state had not been developed
and there was great difficulty in touring the state and making arrange-
ments, places to stop and appointments for speechmaking, means of
travel, reporting the crowds, who was present, reporting to the news-
papers of the state, the media, the doings as we travelled from town
to town across the state in a speechmaking campaign. I was sort of
his travelling secretary.
DR. CRAWFORD: You know, what you did in that campaign
is usually done by a lot of people now —
a press secretary, a scheduling director . . .
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Oh, since those days and in modern times
some professionalized people are employed
to carry on all the things that I did.
DR. CRAWFORD: Let's see, what was the campaign like?
How did you travel, who did you run against?
SENATOR CUMMINGS: We travelled from town to town by auto-
mobile, and then by train and even up and
down the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers by boat to make it to these
DR. CRAWFORD: Who did he run against? Did Hooper run
SENATOR CUMMINGS: No, this is the Democratic primary, and the
DR. CRAWFORD: Was Tom Rye running again? He had been
governor, I know.
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Rye was not a candidate. And this was in
the November election that I'm telling you
about. Roberts was nominated in a convention. And this was in the
regular election. We travelled across the state in that, and I did
the same thing with him when he was a candidate for re-election.
What kind of speaker was Mr. Roberts?
He was a forceful speaker, a vigorous
campaigner, and a powerful man on his
feet, in speechmaking.
DR. CRAWFORD: Were there any special issues involved?
SENATOR CUMMINGS: He was a candidate on the major plat-
form of revising the taxing machinery
of the state on the general theory of equalizing the burden of tax-
ation and making it uniform throughout the state. After his elec-
tion, he advocated — and it was passed — the Tax Reformation Bill.
And in the administration of it during his two terms, it developed
great opposition. And he was defeated on that issue.
DR. CRAWFORD: Was this the campaign when you did much
travel by car?
SENATOR GUMMING S: Well, in many towns from county seat to
county seat where he made speeches, it
was necessary to arrange for automobile transportation over them most
of the dirt roads.
DR. CRAWFORD: Did a lot of people come out to hear the
SENATOR CUMMINGS: People turned out in great numbers for
the speeches and we had good crowds. All
candidates for statewide office enjoyed good turnout if they were
prominent candidates at all.
DR. CRAWFORD: Well, people did not have television then.
SENATOR CUMMINGS: People did not have television then,
nor radio. And the press was the media
for publicity, campaign publicity and reporting of the campaign
tour and the speechmaking, who introduced him, who was present,
and listing all the names of people of significance. The publicity,
and it was part of my duty, my function, to give as good account
of our speeches, of course, that there could be. Now, one or two
newspaper men would be with us at most of the places. The Nashville
papers — there was a man named W. T. Hoffman, for The Banner . And
that was the type of campaign that we made.
DR. CRAWFORD: Did you meet a lot of people in that cam-
SENATOR CUMMINGS: I met people in practically every county
seat of Tennessee that were interested
and taking part in the campaign.
Where was your campaign headquarters?
In Nashville, at the Maxwell House.
That was sort of usual, wasn't it, to
have . . .
That was practically the center of poli-
tical headquarters — the Maxwell House in
DR. CRAWFORD: Did Mr. Roberts travel a great deal in
Oh, yeah, he went from town to town, cover-
ed the state pretty thoroughly.
How did he build his organization?
Did he know a lot of people already?
He'd been a leading candidate once before
for governor and the judiciary-member
of the chancery divisions. The judges of the chancery divisions
across the state were among his leading supporters. And in every
town there was the clerk of chancery court. And we had all of their
names, and they generally were our supporters.
DR. CRAWFORD: Uh-huh. So you had a campaign organization
that you could develop easily.
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Yes, that was already pretty well devel-
oped, and grew from that nucleus, yes.
DR. CRAWFORD: What did you do during the Roberts' admin-
istration, 1919 to 1921?
SENATOR CUMMINGS: When he was elected governor of Tennessee,
he suggested to me that he wanted me to
come to Nashville and be a part of his administration. And I was offer-
ed the job, no doubt at his suggestion, in the state comptroller's office,
The state comptroller at that time was the tax collecting agency and
disbursing agency* The revenue collecting agency of the state under
the constitution and laws that existed at that time,was in comptroller's
And I had a job of receiving the reports of the tax collecting
agencies around the state, the county officers, and reporting it to
me. And I audited and collected their taxes and turned the revenue
over to the state treasurer. At that time the three constitutional
officers of the state had all of those functions. The comptroller's
office was the tax collecting and disbursing agency of all revenue.
The state treasurer, as the name implies, was the custodian of the funds.
And the secretary of state's office had the functions that it now has.
Now when Governor Peay was elected, defeating Hooper, eight years hence. ,
DR. CRAWFORD: And Hooper was. . . Austin Feay was elec-
ted in '22.
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Austin Peay was elected in '24.
Alf Taylor was elected in '22.
DR. CRAWFORD: I thought Taylor just served one term. I
didn't know. . .
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Well, he served, was elected, in '22
and served in '22. . . . elected — he
was elected in '21 and went into office in '22. Roherts was elected
in 1919 and went in '21. Served until '2 3. Alf Taylor went in,
was elected in the even year, '21, and went into office in '22.
DR. CRAUFORD: Yes sir. Now I see.
SENATOR CUMMINGS: And then Hooper succeeded him. . .
No. Am I getting this wrong?
DR. CRAWFORD: Yes sir. I think that Peay succeeded
Taylor. But I'm not sure what year.
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Peay defeated Taylor and he was governor
until 1927, yeah, four years.
DR. CRAWFORD: Did he die in office?
SENATOR CUMMINGS: He died in office in 1927— shortly before
the expiration of his term. And the
Speaker of the Senate was Henry H. Horton, who succeeded upon the death
of Feay to the governorship. Correct.
DR. CRAWFORD: IThat did you do after Governor Roberts
SENATOR CUMMINGS: I continued in the office of state comptroller
during Alf Taylor's administration, until
spring of Governor Peay's first administration. During that period
of time I attended the YMCA night law school. Graduated from that and
took the bar examination and got my license to practice law in 1923
and then went to Cumberland University Law School for one year. And
then in 1925 I came back to Woodbury and started practicing law.
DR. CRAWFORD: Then you already were licensed to practice
before you went to Cumberland, weren't you?
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Oh, yes. It was a fine experience. The
professors of law when they'd come to a
heavy question of law in the class — Charlton Ilosher and I had the same
experience about practicing law — and he would sometimes try, not to
embarrass us particularly, but he would say, "All right, Lawyer Cummings
and Lawyer Mosher, what do you say about that?" And the class and we
had a great time.
DR. CRAWFORD: What kind of governor was Alf Taylor?
Do you remember anything about . . .
SENATOR CUMMINGS: He was a fine person, had a fine family,
lived at a house where the War Memorial
Building is now. This was the governor's residence. And he had three
sons. One was Judge Robert L. Taylor, a United States District Judge
for the eastern division. He was a Vanderbilt student at that time.
And Governor Taylor was a lovely person, and everyone liked him. He
tool: [a] basket on [his] arm and went to the grocery for his family.
DR. CRAWFORD: While he was governor?
SENATOR CUMMINGS: While governor, that's right.
DR. CRAWFORD: Is it true that he played horseshoes?
SENATOR CUMMINGS: I'm not aware of that fact, not . . .
he might have, back in East Tennessee,
where he came from. He was hillbilly country, but during his gover-
norship, I never did know of any activity of that kind.
DR. CRAWFORD: Do you remember anything about his cam-
paign when he defeated Mr. Roberts?
SENATOR CUMMINGS: He just defeated Governor Roberts on this
issue of taxation, and on his personal
popularity and attractiveness as a lovable person. Just his personal
popularity and this issue.
You know, he had run for governor before,
back in 1836, in the War of Roses against
his brother .
And he was not young in 192 0, or whenever
it was that he ran against Mr. Roberts. I
don't remember how old he was.
SENATOR CUMMINGS: He was up past middle age.
DR. CRAWFORD: Uh-huh. Do you remember anything about his
family? Did they campaign with him?
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Not that I recall. Uh, yes, I believe they
did appear. He had a couple of boys that
sang, helped draw a big crowd.
DR. CRAWFORD: Do you remember anything about that dog of
his, he told so many stories about?
SENATOR CUMMINGS: No, he told that story as part of the campaign,
But Limber, I think, had long passed off the
scene before that time.
DR. CRAWFORD: Well, I believe old Limber had his picture
in both The Banner and The Tennessean at some
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Yes, I'm sure they did, because
he made great use of that, not only that but
other stories that he'd heard, a great storyteller. And an attractive
person on campaign platform, and was able to be elected.
DR. CRAWFORD: That was unusual, for a Republican to be
elected then, wasn't it?
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Yes, it was. There hadn't been one since
following the Civil War, since the Recon-
struction days. About fifty years before, Hawkins had been governor.
DR. CRAWFORD: What kind of governor was Austin Peay?
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Well, Austin Peay campaigned on a
platform for the reorganization of the state
government, an administrative reorganization bill. So when he was
elected governor, there was passed an act reorganizing the adminis-
tration of state government that was challenged for its constitutionality,
because the constitution provided for the three constitutional officers,
the comptroller, the treasurer, and the secretary of state. And his
bill created the Deparmtment of Highways, the Department of Education,
the Department of Revenue, the department of this, that, and the other,
and took from the comptroller's office the tax collecting and disbur-
sing authority and made the state comptroller's office an auditing de-
partment, and that's what it still is. And the Department of Revenue
collected the money; the Department of, uh, another department, dis-
bursed it, and the treasurer's office and the comptroller's office
were relegated to much less improtant positions.
So Peay enacted that. He said, in substance, a Highway Depart-
ment, there's always controversy. Up to that time, had a Highway Com-
cission elected by the General Assembly, one from each of the grand
divisions of the state, and there's always controversy about the laying
out of road systems, and so forth. Peay said, "I want the legislation
authorizing me to appoint a Commissioner of Highways, and I'll take
the responsibilities for whatever is not done and what is done. I
want that authority myself." And so it was given to him. And he ap-
pointed a man by the name of Crary as Commissioner of Highways that
laid out a state system of highways. And Peay developed the image,
and I think rightfully so, of being a strong executive that ran the
show and took responsibility for it. He died in office.
DR. CRAWFORD: What had he done before he became governor?
SENATOR CUMMINGS: He had been a member of the Tennessee Gen-
eral Assembly. He was practicing lawyer
in Clarksville, Tennessee. He'd been chairman of the Democratic Exec-
utive Committee and looked the part and acted the part of statesman,
right down the line.
DR. CRAWFORD: Was he a popular governor up until his last
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Yes, he was.
DR. CRAWFORD: Of course, he was in his third term then.
SENATOR CUMMINGS: That's right.
DR. CRAWFORD: And could not have been re-elected. Could
not have run again.
SENATOR CUI MINGS:
But I suppose he is considered one of the
He is considered one of the strong governors
of this state.
And is responsible for the Tennessee road sys-
He is responsible for the Tennessee road sys-
tem and the reorganization of the state govern-
ment into the departments as they now exist and have been enlarged upon.
And he had the appointing power of the Commissioner and exercised that pre-
rogative with force.
DR. CRAWFORD: It has worked for a long time. Do you suppose
it's time to revise it now, and reorganize it
again? It's been fifty-some years since Austin Peay.
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Well, in this last legislature they had many
directorships and since Peay's day many divi-
sions and departments have been created for this, that, and the other,
various boards, licensing boards, and other boards; and a piece of legis-
lation in this present legislature undertaking to reduce that back down,
approximating the situation it was when Peay took it over, it failed.
And so the bureaucracy that has grown out of the reorganization bill
has expanded, and there's a movement not to abolish, but to retract and
bring it back under a fewer number of departments. That failed in this
DR. CRAIJFORD: But it would combine it under a smaller
number of commissioners.
SENATOR CUMMINGS: It would not repeal the Peay reorganization
bill, but to bring back various agencies
of government back under these heads, and let them be directed . . .
One, for instance, is the — and that spearheaded the opposition to this
bill — one is the Department of Veterans' Affairs. They wanted to be an
independent agency, and didn't want to be under the Department of Ad-
jutant General under this new bill. And so other departments, and other
departments — they all finally got enough votes that thy begged this
effort in this last legislature to reorganize, re-reorganize.
DR. CRAIJFORD: Yes, sir. I know what you mean. I'm on
the Tennessee Historical Commission, which
is under the Department of Conservation now. And there was some doubt
on the part of members of our commission.
About whether that was ... a good move to
consolidate it with the Department of Edu-
Yes sir, uh-huh. But, I think it will be
coming back around again.
Oh, it will.
But Austin Peay could certainly see far
ahead. He really had foresight in doing
Well, he was strong. e was a man of
man of great vision and strength and char-
acter, and took the bull by the horns and drove right through with it.
DR. CRAWFORD: I don't remember another Tennessee governor
ever dying in office. He may be the only
one. And then Henry Horton took over. But this was in the last year
anyway, wasn't it?
SENATOR CUMMINGS: In the last few months of Peav's adminis-
1927, I think.
That's right. You don't remember another
Tennessee governor dying in office? I don't
immediately. Sam Houston resigned . . .
DR. CRAWFORD: Yes, sir. He went away to live with the
Indians, I know. But I don't remember an-
other one to die in office. Buford Ellington died soon after leaving
office. But I can't remember another one ever who died in office.
Not in my day, and I don't remember his-
torically of any others.
Uh-huh. I believe that's correct. It
was unusual. I-Jhat kind of person was
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Henry Horton came into office, succeeded
Peay, as Speaker of the Senate. And at
that time Colonel Luke Lea was the publisher of The Nashville Tenn-
essean , a great supporter of Austin Peay. But Peay was a strong man
and kept his hands on the reins. There had developed in Tennessee a
great financial empire headed by Rogers Caldwell that had bought up
a lot of insurance companies, banks, and controlling interests and was
a far-flung empire financially. They — he and Colonel Luke Lea-*zere
Austin Peay men.
DR. CRAWFORD: Now Rogers Calwell and Luke Lea were Austin
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Yes. And they became, when Governor Hor-
ton, a less forceful man — elected to State
Senate, elected Speaker, lived at Winchester, Tennessee, married down
at Marshall County. And when he became governor, it was felt by many
people, quite generally felt across the state, that they took charge
of a vacuum.
DR. CRAWFORD: Because Horton was a weaker leader than
SENATOR CUMMINGS: He was not the forceful leader and felt
great responsibility to them. And about
that time the Recession and Depression set in. And Horton was re-
elected — Horton was elected. And during his administration the Depres-
sion set in, and it was said that Lea and Caldwell exercised an un-
holy influence on Horton and manipulated the depositing of state funds
in banks under their control, and finally during Horton' s administration
the Recession reached a point that a great many of those banks collapsed,
insurance companies went down, and the Caldwell empire blew up, and
the state lost a lot of money. And during Horton' s administration, the
last term of his administration, I was a member of the Tennessee General
Assembly. And a determined effort was made, spearheaded by Mr. Crump,
to impeach Horton for permitting or taking part in the manipulation
of these state funds and not protecting the interest of the state, and
being dominated by Lea and Caldwell, and a determined effort was made
to impeach him.
DR. CRAWFORD: Can we go back just a minute and pick up
your career? In 1925 you had come back
here to practice law. And you . . .
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Correct. In 1925 I went to the state of
Florida in the gold rush. In 1925, in Au-
gust of 1925. I practiced law here for about two months, and I went
to Miami, Florida, and obtained my license to practice law in the state
of Florida. I'd had, in days ahead of that, when I was, got through
a business course in the city of Chattanooga, I'd had a connection
with some Florida developers who had offices in Chattanooga, and they
moved to Florida and became major developers, developers of Florida and
East Coast land. And when I went down there, I went down there and
joined a former employer of mine named LeGro.
DR. CRAWFORD: What was his name, sir?
SENATOR CUMMINGS: L-e G-r-o.
DR. CRAWFORD: Uh-huh.
SENATOR CUMMINGS: He was a California man and his company had
acquired, had developed several developments in Florida land. After Chat-
tanooga he went — he had an agency in Chattanooga selling colonization
of lands in the Everglades of Florida. And he'd become so sold on Flor-
ida and its future that he went to Florida and started a land develop-
ment business of his own down there, and made great success, to the
point that his organization acquired Bay Baum land rights, between
Miami and Miami Beach and Biscayne Bay. And through the War Depart-
ment and the Florida legislation, he acquired that Bay Baum, turned it
to the War Department to build islands by dredging from the bay bot-
tom of Biscayne Bay, building sea walls around, and making islands and
connecting those islands with a toll causeway.
And after 1 got to be a lawyer my former employer of Chattanooga
asked me to come down there and go with his company and I did, and was
with him down there until after Peay's death in 1927. And about that
time, the bubble burst in Florida, and I came back to Cannon County to
start where I'd left off, practicing law, and in 1929 I became a member
of the State Senate.
DR. CRAWFORD: Yes, sir. Now you practiced lav; up here
from '27 till '29?
SENATOR CUMMING: Yeah, I practiced law here from '23 to '25
went to Florida and was down there from '25
till 1927; I came back to Woodbury and resumed the practice of law at
Woodbury. And in the primary of 1928 I was nominated, and in the Novem-
ber election elected to the State Senate, and went to the State Senate
as a member of the State Senate in 1929. And Horton was governor.
DR. CRAWFORD: What counties were in your district then,
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Cannon, which is this, DeKalb, Smithville,
Rutherford, Murfreesboro constituted my
Now I'm fixing to tell you a story that I fear I'll forget about.
A move was underway, spearheaded by Mr. Crump, to impeach Horton. That
was not in 1929, that was 1931. In 1929, there was a fierce battle for
Speaker of the Senate. A man named Jim Bean, from over here at MoOre
County, Lynchburg, was candidate for Speaker, and Bill Abernathy, from
McNairy County was a candidate for Speaker. Horton, Lea, Caldwell
forces were supporting Abernathy. The anti-Crump, anti-Horton group
were supporting Jim Bean. And they ran in a Democratic caucus and had
25 or 30 votes. And two votes in the Democratic caucus wouldn't vote
for either one of them. They voted for a man from Jackson, Tennessee,
who was in the Senate. He and a man by the name of Bratton from Union
County, Obion County, voted for neither of these other two, and neither
one of the, and we balloted and balloted and balloted. And finally in
desperation, it was a compromise situation that was reached. And this
man Bratton right up here, you see, he . . . the Abernathy forces joined
hands and got the two, Barry from Jackson, Tennessee, the father of
the man that was with Life and Casualty that was after attorney general,
his father . . .
: William Barry?
Not Dick, not Dick, no. This man was named,
oh, Barry from Jackson, Tennessee.
Dick Barry's from Lexington, Tennessee.
DR. CRAWFORD: Yes, sir.
SENATOR CUMMINGS: That was way back in 1929. These two had
joined forces with Abernathy forces, and
elected one of the person that had been voting, and they elected Bratton.
DR. CRAWFORD: What was Bratton' s first name?
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Sara, Elected Sam Bratton, Speaker. And it was
rough doings. And during the course of that term of the legislature Brat-
ton sort of fell out with the people that had combined to elect him.
And they went through that. And then the next session of the Legislature,
I was in the House the next term. I thought I was getting my cart before —
I was in the Senate at that time, 1929, up there. The next session of
Legislature I was in the House.
DR. CRAWFORD: What year was that, sir?
SENATOR CUMMINGS: In' 31, 1031. I was in the House and by
that time the Depression was on, a speaker
was elected from the county of Shelby named Scott Fitzhugh. Does that
ring any kind of a bell with you, Scott Fitzhugh, a very prominent law-
yer that had moved from Paris, Tennessee to Memphis, and had been elected
for State Senate, part of the Crump organization, as they all were?
DR. CRAWFORD: Uh-huh.
SENATOR CUMMINGS: And he was elected Speaker. And then during
the campaign they started the campaign of im-
peachment against Horton.
DR. CRAWFORD: Now, let's see. Scott Fitzhugh was Speaker of
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Senate.
DR. CRAWFORD: Of the Senate, yes sir. But you were in the
DR. CRAWFORD: Okay.
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Scott Fitzhugh was elected Speaker of the
Senate. And a campaign was started in the
House for an impeachment of Horton. Crump was very much interested
in that, of course. But it got injected into the campaign, that if
Horton got impeached, Crump's man, Fitzhugh, the Speaker of the Senate,
would become governor, and a reaction set in that was a great threat to
the success of the impeachment proceedings. And you know what Mr. Crump
did? Mr. Crump, to stem that tide that he was fixing to grab the gover-
norship for one of his own, forced Scott Fitzhugh to resign as Speaker
of the Senate in midterm, and they elected Jack Broadbent from Clarkes-
ville, Tennessee, Speaker of the Senate.
DR. CRAWFORD: Jack Broadbent?
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Jack Broadbent, who was acting Secretary of
State, and a Peay man. So Scott Fitzhugh
stepped down as Speaker to rob the pro-Horton forces of a wolf cry that
he was going to become the governor and Crump would have the whole thing
in his hands. He forced Scott Ftizhugh to resign. And in the House —
I was a member of the House — I opposed. Tiie impeachment resolution was
never passed. I opposed it on the theory that Horton was not guilty
of any crimes or misdemeanors that were impeachable offenses, that he
was a weak brother when he was elected, and was not guilty of any im-
peachable offense. He was maybe an undesirable person to have as gov-
ernor, but was not subject to impeachment. And we went through that
thing in 1931, spearheaded by Mr. Crump, as I've told you.
So that was 1931.
DR. CRAWFORD: Now, who became Speaker after Scott Fitz-
hugh resigned, Broadbent?
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Jack Broadbent of Clarkesville , Tennessee,
who had been a part of the Peay organization,
and was a highly respected person. So Crump wasn't taking any chances
on losing any more ground by electing another . He wanted Horton
impeached, and so that was his strategy.
So I continued in the House then for three or four terms, under
the plan that we had in the Democratic State Committee. The counties
of a district — senatorial district — by agreement between the executive
committees of the several counties — could designate the county that
would furnish the senator, the candidate for senator, in the Democratic
primary. And we had a rotation agreement in this district, as they had
in practically all districts of the state, where there was multiple coun-
ties in the senatorial district, adopted a rotation plan, so every
eight years it came the Cannon County's turn under rotation agreement
for Cannon County to elect the senator. So from then on, for many years,
every fourth year I'd be a candidate for the Senate, and the other years
I'd be a candidate for the House.
DR. CRAWFORD: Uh-huh. So you switched back and forth?
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Out of eight years when I served under that
rotation plan, I served four terms as state
senator, and the other terms I served as a member of the House, up until
I announced that I was not going to be a candidate any longer, and I
was elected during those terms except when Governor Gordon Browning was
elected governor, I was elected Secretary of State, and served four years
as Secretary of State. Then came back after my term of office as Secretary
of State, ran back for the legislature, and was in the legislature until
four years ago, when I announced I wasn't going to be a candidate any more.
DR. CRAWFORD: What year was that, you announced you'd not
in 1 ?
Well, this is the second term . . . four years
ago, I announced that I wasn't going to be
a candidate. We elected a man name Buck. He's been there the last two
All this talk's most been about my career rather than the things,
probably, in which you are more interested.
No, I want to hear this too. You have never
been defeated for office in an election, then,
have you Mr. Cummings?
SENATOR CUUMINGS: No, sir, Bob White says that I'm one man
that served a longer term in the Tennessee
Legislature than any man in the history of the state, beginning with
John Sevier, down to today.
DR. CRAWFORD: Well, Dr. White would know.
SENATOR CUMMINGS: And that I'm one that was a candidate during
all that period, and was never defeated for
public office. Now whatever that, whatever glory there is in that.
DR. CRAWFORD: Well, it's quite a historical distinction.
SENATOR CUMMINGS: It puts me in a class by myself. Anyway,
it doesn't particularly mean that I was a
great man of any kind, but politically I was successful from the time
that I ran and was elected circuit court clerk in my county in 1914 till
I retired from public service four years ago. I was a perpetual candi-
date except while I was in the Secretary of State's office and the two
years that I spent down in Florida, I was running for or serving in pub-
lic office all that time.
DR. CRAWFORD: Let's see. You left the General Assembly
about in '73, didn't you, or '74?
SENATOR CDMMIN6S: I left, uh, yes, Frank Buck was elected
in '74, in the latter part of ... I was
elected in '73, and I. . , announced in Nashville. I resigned, and I
was fixing to resign, I said, well, I announced that I wasn't going
to be a candidate. So as to burn the bridge behind me, in 1974 — in the
spring of 1974, I not only announced that I wasn't going to be a candi-
date, but I actually offered my resignation to the governor, and it was
accepted, and I went out of office, actually. I wasn't going to have it.
I decided I was going to get out, and I didn't want to . . . and I wanted
all the other candidates who had told me, several had around through the
state, that if I decided not to run, they wanted to be a candidate, but
they weren't going to run as long as I ran. So to make certain that they
could get in and get their feet wet and not have the rug pulled out from
under them, I just gave up the office and resigned, and was not a candidate.
DR. CRAWFORD: I see what Bob White meant about your record.
And of course that was a few years ago. You
went on and did more after he told you that. He's been dead several years
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Oh yes. He told me that, I had that dis-
tinction back then, and I continued on. Now
Reagor llotlow died the other day, over at Lynchburg, and he had served
thirty years in the Tennessee General Assembly, House and Senate.
THIS IS THE ORAL HISTORY RESEARCH OFFICE OF MEMPHIS STATE UNIVERSITY.
THIS PROJECT IS "THE POLITICAL HISTORY OF TENNESSEE." THE DATE IS MARCH
25, 1978, AND THE INTERVIEW IS WITH SENATOR JAMES CUMMINGS IN WOODBURY,
TENNESSEE. THE INTERVIEW IS BY DR. CHARLES W. CRAWFORD AND IS TRANSCRIBED
BY MARY JANE MORGAN. INTERVIEW II.
DR. CRAWFORD: Yes, Mr. Cummings, let me ask you before you
get off, what years did you serve as Secretary
of State in Tennessee, because I know that Gordon Browning was in two different
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Look up there and see when that commission
was issued to me. It's '51, I think.
DR. CRAWFORD: '49.
SENATOR CUMMINGS: '49 to '51.
DR. CRAWFORD: Yes sir, that was after World War II, when
he came back.
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Yes.
DR. CRAWFORD: You know, he served a while before the war,
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Hmmm?
DR. CRAWFORD: Gordon Browning served one term before.
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Before the war, a previous two-year term he
served; and then he was elected again in '51;
and I was elected Secretary of State.
DR. CRAWFORD: Now, let's see. You were in the legislature
all through the 1930's and ...
SENATOR CUMMINGS: 1929 until 1974, except six years. I was
four years Secretary of State and when
Browning was elected his last time I was his state campaign manager.
DR. CRAWFORD: In 1948, when he was elected? No. In 1950,
his last term?
SENATOR CUMMINGS: His last term, 1949. I was elected Secretary
of State, served four years as Secretary of
DR. CRAWFORD: That was on into Clement's administration.
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Clement came in then, that's right.
DR. CRAWFORD: Uh-huh. Well, sir, during the 1930's and the
Depression, you were in the legislature.
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Yes.
DR. CRAWFORD: What kind of governor was Henry Horton in
his last year? I know he survived the
impeachment attempt, but did he have any strength as governor after that?
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Well, he maintained strength, he continued
to be, without the towering, dominant posi-
tion that Peay had occupied. But he went through his administration with
reasonable good working relations with the General Assembly.
DR. CRAWFORD: Do you know how he felt about the attempted
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Well, nothing out of the ordinary, except
he was, uh , beleaguered in fighting back as
best he could.
DR. CRAWFORD: Uh-huh. Well, now, let's see. His enemies,
some of them, got in trouble, you know,
Rogers Caldwell and Luke Lea . . .
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Both Colonel Lea and Rogers Caldwell were
indicted for their manipulation of finances,
hiding deposits and things from one institution to the other. Lea was con-
victed over in North Carolina; it extended over into North Carolina.
SENATOR CUMMINGS :
He spent some time in prison, didn't he?
Did he come back to Tennessee afterwards?
What did he do later, and did you ever meet
Oh, frequently, yes. He was elected. I
never will forget what Lonnie Armes said
about him. They put him in the penitentiary at Nashville. Lonnie was chief
clerk in the state treasurer's office, of Hill McAlister's office. Lonnie
was a tough-going politician. I'll never forget what Lonnie Armes said when
they put Colonel Lea in the penitentiary. He said, "Now I want to see to it
that he don't have access to a telephone. If he does, he'll still do more
things in Tennessee politics than most of us can do out on the outside."
(Laughter) But Lea was a powerful man -- served a term in the United States
Senate, you know.
DR. CRAWFORD: What made him so influential?
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Well, he was [of] a very prominent family,
well-to-do family, the Lea family. And he
married into a very prominent Tennessee family. And he was a promoter, and he
acquired and published the Nashville Tennesseean , that was a powerful influence
in the political, certainly in the Democratic circles in Tennessee. And in
that way he developed into a powerful man in state politics.
DR. CRAWFORD: Did he die in the '30's, soon after the
SENATOR CUMMINGS: I can't recall. He was defeated by McKellar
in the first statewide primary. We changed
the law so as to elect United States senators by popular vote instead of by
the Tennessee General Assembly, and he and K.D. McKellar and M.R. Patterson,
who had been former governor, came back. The three of them ran, and McKellar
was nominated, Lea [was then] out of office.
DR. CRAWFORD: Malcolm Patterson?
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Malcolm R. Patterson, the man that pardoned
DR. CRAWFORD: Uh-huh. What happened, now, to Malcolm
Patterson after he was defeated in 1910?
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Well, he was living in Memphis, Tennessee.
He went back down there and continued to live
down there and never was back in any public office.
DR. CRAWFORD: Did he practice law then?
SENATOR CUMMINGS: I understood that he did. He was a lawyer by
profession. I understood that he did practice
law. I'm not too familiar with that.
DR. CRAWFORD: Did he get in trouble in Nashville one time
SENATOR CUMMINGS : While he was governor, he got in trouble.
He was given to some intemperance in the
alcohol business. And he was at cross-purposes with the city administration
of the city of Nashville. And a raid was made on the red light district,
and he was there, a guest of it. And he got in serious trouble about that.
DR. CRAWFORD: Do you know if that was set up?
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Well, I don't know, of course, it depends
on which side of the thing you're on.
They say it was a trap, or something.
DR. CRAWFORD: Uh-huh. Anyone would suspect that, probably.
SENATOR CUMMINGS: That may well have had something to do with it
DR. CRAWFORD: Did that seem to hurt his political career?
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Well, that didn't help it. And he went down
with that and the other thing. He did not
pursue his campaign for re-election.
DR. CRAWFORD: Uh-huh. Did they get publicity for that,
when he was arrested in the red light house,
did the reporters cover that?
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Oh, hell, yeah.
DR. CRAWFORD: They must have known in advance.
SENATOR CUMMINGS: They--oh, it got widely circulated. Now I
don't recall, but I think that was after he
had pardoned Cooper. And maybe they were, uh , I'm not sure about this, but
I doubt whether he was promoting any campaign for re-election, not at that
DR. CRAWFORD: Well, let's see ...
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Well, he probably wasn't eligible to be re-
elected. I just don't piece that together
DR. CRAWFORD: Yes, he had served three consecutive terms
by 1910. I think he was first elected in
1906, so he had been in three terms.
And he had reorganized government some, I
remember, not as much as Austin Peay.
But, in fact I don't suppose anyone has as
much as Austin Peay.
Patterson's greatest achievement, as I have
the thing in my mind, was his advocacy of
the enlargement and development of the educational system. And the state
"Normals" were established during his administration, which, the university
down here now, in Memphis, and Johnson City, were in that group. And the
General Educational Bill, he advocated that with equalizing state aid for the
less affluent, sparsely populated areas of the state. That was his great
achievement as governor, as I have it in my mind.
DR. CRAWFORD: Well, let's see. In the '30's, when Henry
Horton left office, he was succeeded by Hill
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Correct.
DR. CRAWFORD: What kind of governor was he, Senator Cummings?
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Well, he was one of the finer men that I've
known in public office. He had been state treasurer, and he had been city
attorney for the city of Nashville, had been in the state senate back then in
the Patterson administration. He was what we called, belonged to the "regular"
Democratic organization, and was a popular man amongst them. And he became
governor and had a good administration. Nothing spectacular. He was the son
of a former justice of the Supreme Court in Tennessee, McAlister was, Judge
W.K. McAlister. And he married a Miss Jackson, who was of a very prominent
Nashville family connected with the Harding family, and the Belle Meade folks.
So he was a highly respected man of unquestioned integrity and ethics, and
knowledgeable in state government, but sort of operated on the status quo.
DR. CRAWFORD: Well, he also had a handicap of being governor
in the Depression.
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Had a handicap of being governor in the
Depression, and had the handicap of being
rather hard of hearing. But he was a good man.
DR. CRAWFORD: Let's see. He served from, well, about four
years, didn't he? Two terms, I believe.
SENATOR CUMMINGS: That's right. He and Louis Pope had his
campaign, Louis S. Pope. And McAlister had
the support of the Crump organization.
DR. CRAWFORD: Why did the Crump organization support him?
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Why did they?
DR. CRAWFORD: Yes, sir.
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Well, as I view it, it was just a continuation
of affiliations that had been during the former
years. He was sort of a part of the organization, not a heeler, but was one
of the more prominent men that had gotten along with Mr. Crump.
DR. CRAWFORD: Do you remember anything special he did?
I know he mainly supported the status quo.
SENATOR CUMMINGS : I don't have in my mind any outstanding,
certainly no revolutionary changes within
the state government.
DR. CRAWFORD: Uh-huh. Well, of course, he was succeeded
by a different kind of person. Gordon
Browning at the time was fairly young.
SENATOR CUMMINGS: That's right. Now between Gordon Browning
and McAlister, things just changed about.
The McAlister folks, when Peay was about to retire, his organization supported
Burgin Dossett as a candidate for governor.
DR. CRAWFORD: In 1936.
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Now, and they had, they thought, the right
to expect that Dossett would be supported
by Mr. Crump and Senator McKellar. And Browning was assaulting the state
administration for doing nothing in this, that and the other, and cronyism.
And it became apparent in the last days of the campaign, when Dossett 's
folks were expecting, and dependent in a large measure on the heavy vote of
Shelby County to elect him. In the last week of the campaign, and the last
hours of the campaign, Mr. Crump announced that he was supporting Browning.
And McKellar still supported Dossett. But McKellar 's box went ten to one
for Browning. And Browning carried Shelby County by something like eighty
thousand votes. And Browning, the night of the election, in his response, he
made the statement that haunted him afterwards, he said, made the public
statement that there were eighty thousand reasons why he loved Shelby County.
And he and Crump, the thing that many expected, I certainly expected,
Browning, who had a military background, came into office with Crump's sup-
port, and it wasn't too long until they clashed. I had supported Dossett.
I was not pro-Crump. And that year I was in the Senate, and when Browning
advocated after they fell out, or maybe before they fell out, during
the time Browning advocated what we call a unit process of nominating
candidates for statewide office in the party, which is the majority system,
which gave to each county a unit vote, depending on the majority that pre-
vailed in that county. So Cannon County had, we'll say, ten votes; and Shelby
County had eighty votes in the nominating process. So on the unit plan if
the candidate carried Cannon County by ten votes, they got those ten votes;
and if Shelby [County] gave somebody eighty thousand votes, they just still
got their eighty votes. And that became unpopular; and Browning was defeated
for his second term.
Why do you think he fell out with Boss Crump?
Well, it was just a clash of personalities
and who was going to be the head man of the
DR. CRAWFORD: Well, Mr. Crump was accustomed to being the
head man of the show.
SENATOR CUMMINGS: That's right. And Browning was just militarily
inclined enough. He had been commander of a
unit, he was captain in the Army in Europe. Colonel Lea was the colonel.
He was an artillery captain under Lea. And, but anyway, he had a
military complex. He ran the show. He gave the orders.
DR. CRAWFORD: He acted like governor while he was governor,
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Yeah, that's right. And Mr. Crump wanted
to call the deal and they fell out.
DR. CRAWFORD: Uh-huh. You don't know of any special other
SENATOR CUMMINGS: No, it just developed into a general disagree-
ment. It just got to be a war in camp. But
I think that was the origin of it. So that during these years there came to
be, and of course, during the early years and most of the time and until the
Supreme Court of the United States passed the decision of one-man-one-vote,
the state was apportioned in a manner that the rural membership of the legis-
lature had a rather strong voice. And during that period of time there came
to be in the Tennessee legislature, first in the Senate and then the House,
one would be a man by the name of I.D. Beasley, from Carthage, a young law-
yer, as I was a young lawyer, representing the rural community, and a man by
the name Walter M. "Pete" Hanes of Winchester, also a young lawyer repre-
senting a rural constituency, and we, sir, had tenure in the legislature.
DR. CRAWFORD: What was Mr. Hanes 1 name again?
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Walter M. --- Walter Miller Hanes. So out
of tenure and exposure, not because of our
particular ability, I don't, I never thought, we became regarded, anyway, as
the spokesmen and leaders of the rural block in the Tennessee legislature.
DR. CRAWFORD: Were you the "gold dust" ... uh , let's see,
it wasn't twins. What was the name?
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Oh, this man, Barker, wrote in the magazine
section of The Tennessean , he wrote an
article on us that described us as the "unholy triumvirate or something like
that, called us the "gold dust twins" and "the three horsemen" and all that
kind of stuff.
DR. CRAWFORD: Who was this writer, sir?
SENATOR CUMMINGS: His name was Barker. He was The Tennessean ' s
editor of the magazine section for a long
SECRETARY: Do you have that copy of that "unholy trinity"?
I bet he'd love to read it. Do you have it
here . . . the copy of you . . .
SENATOR CUMMINGS: I think I have it down there ... I know I
have it down at the house, a copy of that
SECRETARY: I was thinking we had a copy ... you did
have a copy . . .
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Well, we may have it here. The last few
years I 've lost . . .
DR. CRAWFORD: I'd love to see it.
SENATOR CUMMINGS: I have a hard time finding things in my file,
as if I'd never had them.
SECRETARY: Where would I look?
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Under "Cummings" down in this ... So we,
uh, maybe it's not too much to say, we became
what some thought was good parliamentarians, familiar with the rules of parlia-
ment and the methods of taking advantage of situations and so forth, making
the most out of it. So we, for years and years and years, were close allies
in the legislative branch.
DR. CRAWFORD: I've heard a lot about those days, Senator
Cummings. And you three were the most influ-
ential people, I believe, in the General Assembly in those days because of
tenure and seniority and parliamentary ability, I believe.
SENATOR CUMMINGS: That's right. Maybe we had this advantage ...
whatever, if that's the right word or not.
A great many of the rural legislators come to Nashville, and the feeling
grew across the state that the thing for them to do as rural legislators and
freshmen, was to come and take counsel with us, and join our organization,
and so forth. And that means, by means of all of us, we seemed to be regarded
as people of some ... you got it?
SECRETARY: No, I've got some other papers he might like
to glance at.
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Well, get that other one. That's the only
one . . .
SECRETARY: "The Unholy Trinity"?
SENATOR CUMMINGS: "The Unholy Trinity", that's it.
DR. CRAWFORD: And all three of you were influential in the
state, and in your own districts. I remember,
I.D. Beasley, wasn't there some story about some road repairs going on?
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Oh, yes. Governor Cooper got to be governor;
and he was a little fellow, and a little ill-
tempered, and so forth, tried to make up in being mean for what he lacked in
other things. And the story, that's been told many times, that they were
building a road, Number 70, out of Carthage, blasting off rocks and so forth.
And Governor Cooper was returning from up in east Tennessee, and they had the
road blocked. And so he drove up with his entourage, whoever he had, and had
to go around, detour way around somewhere. And Cooper got out and said to the
highway flagmen, said they say he said "You know who I am?". I don't
know whether he put it that bluntly or not. But anyway he told the man, "I'm
the governor, Prentice Cooper; and I want to go through here. I'm in the
state chair, got official business. I'm in the state chair and want to go
through. Let me through this detour." And it's said that the man said,
"Well, I don't give a damn if you're I.D. Beasley. I wouldn't let you through."
DR. CRAWFORD: (laughing) Told the governor that?
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Told the governor that!
SECRETARY: Well, I've located everything except that.
Do you think it may be down at your house?
SENATOR CUMMINGS: I know there is a copy of it down at my house.
SECRETARY: I've gone through all the old Couriers and
New York Times , everything that you're in.
I can't find "The Unholy Trinity".
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Well, it was ... if need be, I can find it
down at the house.
DR. CRAWFORD: I'd like to see about getting our library,
if you'd be willing to make a copy of those
things to put on record, uh, with this interview about this. Because I know
you've been written up in a lot of papers over the years.
SECRETARY: I've got gobs of old papers ...
DR. CRAWFORD: So you're the "unholy trinity" and the
"gold dust" what?
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Well, I don't know... they called us the
"unholy trinity", anyway.
SECRETARY: I'd love for him to see that.
DR. CRAWFORD: Well, I hope I can.
SENATOR CUMMINGS: They had it in three different issues, one
on me and one on ...
SECRETARY: Where is it down at the house? I'll go get
it. Is it in your study?
SENATOR CUMMINGS: It's in my little office there, amongst
those papers there.
DR. CRAWFORD: When did you start working in association
with Walter Hanes and I.D. Beasley?
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Well, they came to the legislature, both of
them, during the time that I was in the
comptroller's office. Then after I started in the legislature they kept
returning and they stayed on 'til they both passed off before I did. And
they had ten or twelve, thirteen terms in the legislature. I had sixteen.
DR. CRAWFORD: What things did you cooperate in most with
SENATOR CUMMINGS: In what field?
DR. CRAWFORD: Uh-huh.
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Well, my chief work in the Tennessee
Legislature was in the field of public
education and health. And I made it my chief aim to get what I thought was
adequate state appropriations for public schools, and the colleges, your
college and this one down here. I got a letter from Kefauver commending me.
I went on the theory that the matter of public education and public health
and the making of citizenship for the state, that it was just as important
that an education of a youth or the health of a youth on one side or the other
of the county line, ought to be as good in one as it was in the other. And
that it was a state function, and that, on the theory I've been quoted
on it for quite a few times, and I don't think I originated anything in my
life, I think, other than expected.
But I was quoted, largely that I said my theory was that, to raise the
money where the wealth was, educate the children where they were, and give
them equal opportunity. And we made much of it, as best we could. Some
demagoguery, I guess, carried along with it too, that for a child living
across the county line in a small county, Cheatham County, and another
living just throw a rock over his house in Davidson, they had more money than
they knew what to do with, running out their ears, had all the good teachers,
they increased teachers' salary, had facilities, and people across the line
in the other county had poor facilities, undertrained teachers, and that
uniformity in education in Tennessee did not exist. Opportunities did not
exist because of the distribution of state funds.
And my whole legislative career was devoted to the equalization of bur-
dens and of expenditures for education in all the counties of the state.
It was a running battle with every session of the legislature, and the big
city would take the view that we were baiting them for the benefit of rural,
less affluent, sparsely populated sections, and we were just that each
county ought to take care of its own, to some extent, and that was the burden
of my legislative career.
DR. CRAWFORD: Was that the position that was taken against
your educational aims, that is, to leave it
at the county level?
SENATOR CUMMINGS: They wouldn't say that entirely, but in prac-
tical application, that's what they wanted
to do. "If we want to levy a sales tax down in Davidson County and have
better schools, go ahead and levy you raise the money up there." Now,
they did have what they called an equalization fund, apportioning various
counties on a damn formula that was as long as, uh , the United Nations, some
of their charters. You couldn't analyze it and it worked out inequitably,
and we were suffering because of lack of funds, because we didn't have the
wealth to do it. Davidson County was prospering and had a fine educational
system, raised their teachers' salaries. "We raised the money to raise our
teachers' salaries." But have a state level, a minimum, and the state will
contribute to that minimum level, of say, four thousand dollars, just to say
that figure. Well, Davidson County just put on a little this or that, half
a mill or something, to have enough money to pay their teachers six thousand
dollars a year, so, hell, all the good teachers just left the rural communi-
ties and went to the city, where they can get a better salary, better facil-
ities, schools; while we were walking through the mud three or four miles to
school up here, why, they were tripping down good sidewalks in Davidson
County to a nearby school with all the facilities for an education and
everything, all the extra that they could have, and we were having damn one-
room schools out in Cannon County having a hard time.
I started out, in my experience as a one-room teacher, that we built the
fire, went to the spring and brought the water, played on public roads, shot
marbles for entertainment while the others had stadiums and gymnasiums and
inside-this and every thing-that . As a country schoolteacher, I promised
myself in my youth that if I lived and ever got in a position of government,
I was going to equalize opportunity for these here as compared with opportu-
nities of those in the wealthy, more densely populated cities. And I spent
my life in that work.
DR. CRAWFORD: And you saw it happen, didn't you?
SENATOR CUMMINGS : I saw it come to a realization. Step by
step, and fought every way over thirty-
forty years in the Tennessee Legislature. Every year was a new battle.
DR. CRAWFORD: And do you feel it's fairly well accepted
now that it's a state responsibility?
SENATOR CUMMINGS: More so, we still have the certain formulas
that we haven't reached it, but it's so
much nearer the goal that I hoped for, that it's not bad. And now we've
developed universities at Murf reesboro , and one over at Memphis. We have the
vocational schools scattered all around the county. Now, just since my time,
anybody that wants to go to college, get a B.S. or a master's degree or
whatnot can do it. Murf reesboro ' s right at hand in travelling distance.
And it's I've seen it grow, not to my complete satisfaction, but, for most
practical purposes, I've seen it bear fruit. Now we have our educational
opportunities in Cannon County comparable to what they are in other cities.
Our health situation is on the same basis.
DR. CRAWFORD: What is the approximate population of Cannon
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Uh , less than tern thousand. About nine
DR. CRAWFORD: And people here always gave you good support
whenever you were running for office?
SENATOR CUMMINGS: On that platform, that was my platform
every year, that I was going down to try to
see that the wealth of this state provided the children of Cannon County an
opportunity for education comparable to those of the centers of population
DR. CRAWFORD: Well, you helped the economy of Cannon
County a good deal, too. Quite a percentage
of the people here were working for the state in one way or another, weren't
they, over a period of time?
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Well, about, of a percentage, about we got,
uh , were able to keep our quota up about on
the top with a, not overdone. We got our road system built, Cannon County
road system, intercounty road system, so that you could go to get your health
facilities built. We got our school improvement made. And we are now, you
might say, first-class citizens.
DR. CRAWFORD: Uh-huh. Well, it took a long time, and a
lot of work. And you were there through
Gordon Browning's first administration, too, '37 to '39, or whatever.
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Yes, yeah.
DR. CRAWFORD: And, of course, you were there through all
of Prentice Cooper's terms in office, three
of them. What kind of governor was he, Senator?
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Prentice Cooper?
DR. CRAWFORD: Uh-huh.
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Well, he was a bright young fellow that was
the, uh , product of the Crump organization.
And you have to say, it's true, in my opinion, that Mr. Crump demanded
honesty among public officials in Shelby County and as he dominated situa-
tions in the state. And he demanded of his people that, and Cooper had it
easy because Crump was dominant and was his supporter. And he followed Mr.
Crump's policies of state government.
DR. CRAWFORD: Do you think of any instances in which
Prentice Cooper disagreed with Boss Crump
or took a different position?
SENATOR CUMMINGS : Never heard of it. Not in his dreams, even.
DR. CRAWFORD: Uh-huh. He seemed to agree completely with
Mr. Crump, then?
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Well, whatever Crump advocated became the
policy of the state. And not necessarily
bad, I don't mean that, that I don't think he was undertaking to run it for
any selfish certainly not any corrupt practices. I think Mr. Crump de-
manded honesty, not only locally but where he had input in state affairs.
He was the boss!
DR. CRAWFORD: Did you meet him personally?
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Many times.
DR. CRAWFORD: Uh-huh. What kind of person was he? What
did he look like?
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Well, he was tall, bushy-headed fellow, eye-
brows that hung out way over his forehead,
and walked with a walking cane, and spoke with self -approval. He didn't have
any doubt about which way he was going.
And he had excellent lieutenants in Nashville. The most prominent one
was a man named Frank Rice. He died several years ago. And he knew how to
get things done, and Mr. Rice was his legislative representative. And Mr.
Rice had the faculty of getting along with even the rural legislators, and
would make concessions.
DR. CRAWFORD: Why did Mr. Rice get along so well with
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Well, he was a likeable person, and hobnobbed
with them, stayed there during the whole
session. And he would make concessions and give us a break about some things,
and give us the Crump support, and sell Mr. Crump on the idea.
DR. CRAWFORD: What about Mr. Crump's other lieutenants?
I think Frank Rice died and was replaced by
others, wasn't he? Do you remember Francis Andrews or ...
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Yes, I remember Francis Andrews. I remember
the attorney general down there, McLean,
Dave McLean, he was up there part of the time. But he ruled a delegation with
an iron hand, Mr. Crump did. What is that?
DR. CRAWFORD: This is your 85th General Assembly Legislative
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Legislative Council?
DR. CRAWFORD: Yes, sir.
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Yeah.
DR. CRAWFORD: Was Francis Andrews as able as Frank Rice?
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Uh , he was not as capable in dealing with
the membership of the General Assembly as
Mr. Rice. No doubt, he was a man of ability, but in that phase of his work,
nobody had the touch that Mr. Rice had, that's ever represented the Shelby
delegation. Right over there to your left is a thing that I consider probably
one of the funniest things. I was always able to get along with the press
very well. You reading that?
DR. CRAWFORD: Yes, sir. "The News Award, 1955, to a man
of ability and leadership, Honorable James
Cummings , direct representative from Cannon County. Selected by members of
the Council of Correspondents Association in a poll conducted by the United
Press, the most outstanding member of the House of Representatives, and also
the full 79th General Assembly of the state of Tennessee."
SENATOR CUMMINGS: That is Hart and somebody, Tom Jefferson?
DR. CRAWFORD: Yes sir.
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Well, I always was able — our present
governor, I've thought about it many times,
he keeps his foot in his mouth with the press. I found out in my youth that
if you're going to run a beer joint or a pool hall, if you couldn't get along
with the policemen on the street, you'd better get in some other business.
For [if] they can give you a fit every day, twice a day, and run you out of
business. And the press, if you get into a running argument, counterattack
the press, you may feel like it a lot of times, but you're pulling the tem-
per down on your head if you propose to have a publicity campaign against
the media. You can't win that kind of a battle, so I always managed to get
DR. CRAWFORD: Did you ever tell the present governor,
Governor Blanton, about that?
SENATOR CUMMINGS: I told the governor's lieutenants about
that. Blanton was in the legislature when
I was Speaker, serving, and I liked him very much. He's a good man, and I
think he's had a good administration of the affairs of the state. But every
time he meets up with a reporter of one of the broadcasting systems or a
reporter for one of the newspapers, if some article has appeared on the back
page of the paper or in some newscast that he doesn't like, he starts an argu-
ment with the reporter about it. And they write it up and find phrases and
use it, and so forth, to put him in bad.
And I think he had developed a great unpopularity not because of his
administration of the affairs of government, but because of his unnecessarily-'
politically, certainly unnecessarily and made a statement that he liked
some man named Humphreys down there who's serving time, before he went out
of office he was going to appoint him. [As] much as say, if he robbed the
till out there, I'm still going to pardon him before I go out of office.
And damned if they haven't run him ragged on that. And he takes it as offen-
sive if somebody writes an article that one of his underlings out there has
cheated somebody in the sale of a car, state surplus property or something.
He takes it and gets in an argument with newspapers about having that article
in the paper, and has a lot of mean things to say about them and so forth,
just stays in a running argument with the press. And he comes out with the
bloody head as far as the public's concerned.
SECRETARY: The press was always real good to Mr. Jim,
but he was good to the press.
DR. CRAWFORD: That's what we're talking about.
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Now, in the newspapers, Lesley Hart, all
these newspaper people — Memphis supporters
and all they came around to me and said, "Well, I understand you had a
rough session last night in the committee on so-and-so." Hell, I'd tell them
what took place.
SECRETARY: But, Mr. Jim, you know, a couple of weeks
ago they took a picture of one of the legis-
lators asleep in his chair.
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Yeah.
SECRETARY: And he got up and raised hell with them,
and everything, and got in trouble. Well,
look at this picture that happened to Mr. Jim one time. Well, he got up the
next day and complimented the photographer.
What'd it say under the picture?
It says, "Cummings took a bit of ribbing
about this news picture of him asleep in
But does it say what I said?
No, I don't think so.
It probably does in the ...
What I said in substance was that I
might have been taking a little nap, that
the night before we'd stayed up nearly all night working on a General
Educational Bill. And I spent the night writing largely that paragraph of
the Educational Bill, and I was paying no attention. They were rehashing it
in the House that day, and I might have been taking a nap, but I said, "If
you'll get that bill and look on it, you'll see my fingerprints on Section
24 that took care of Cannon County." (laughter)
DR. CRAWFORD: That's good. Young lady, what's your name?
SECRETARY: Linda Brown.
DR. CRAWFORD: And would you mind if I look through these?
MRS. BROWN: No. That's the one that's on Mr. Jim. One
of these is on Pete Hanes and the other's
on I.D. Beasley.
SENATOR CUMMINGS: That man — what's his name?
DR. CRAWFORD: The author, uh , writer?
SENATOR CUMMINGS :
copies of this, if we could.
In 1964. Yours is on April 12th. But he
ends the series on the unholy trinity.
April 5th, April 12th, and April 19th.
In The Tennesseean . I'll speak to you about
getting to come over sometime and make Xerox
I thought that you might want to look at that
All right, I'd like to see that also.
I'll give you that paper. We've got several
of those, Mr. Jim.
All right, yeah.
This was his appreciation day here. Then
they had a big appreciation day at Middle
Tennessee State University and named a building after him, a high-rise girls'
dormitory; and Mr. Jim asked President Carter if he would get any special
privileges because it was a girls' dormitory. And he said, "Well, yeah."
And Mr. Jim said, "Well, you've waited forty years too late ... " (laughing)
DR. CRAWFORD: And you wearing bow ties even back then,
all the way back then, huh? (laugh) Well,
for someone who started as a one-room schoolteacher, you've ended up doing
a lot for education.
MRS. BROWN: Well, that's always been his cup of tea,
education. It's been the thing that he's
fought for all his life.
I'll keep this and look at the others.
Yeah. They're real interesting.
You'll really enjoy then.
Well, it's very historic. Senator Cummings
has been in the Tennessee Legislature longer
than any other person in history, and has a longer period of always
winning, of never losing any.
MRS. BROWN: He's never lost an election.
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Whatever that means.
MRS. BROWN: Mr. Jim, I just want to tell him this one
little story. It won't take me but a minute,
Now I think it's funny and you don't particularly think it's funny.
But in the first race Mr. Jim ever made was here in the county for
county court clerk — circuit court clerk. So he had to go horseback
out in the country to electioneer.
They had, that was before automobiles.
So he said, the first person that asked
him to spend the night, he just took them
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Feed my horse, bed me down and feed me
and . . . well, wasn't any money.
MRS. BROWN: So he went to this man's house, and he
said, "Well, spend the night, Jim." "All
right, I'll just do that." So they fed his horse and fed him a big
supper. And he said, "Now there's a protracted meeting going on up
here," said, "I guess you'll get to meet a lot of interesting people.
Might get you some votes." Mr. Jim said, "Well, I'll just go with you."
So Brother Stacy —
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Having a meeting in a log church house,
about 30 by 30 square.
DR. CRAWFORD: In 1^14, that would have been, yes.
MRS. BROWN: So during the sermon, when he got through,
he said, "Now look, we're going to take up
^offering," said, "Now I'm going to put the table right out here in
the middle of the floor and let everybody walk by and make their con-
tribution." Well, Mr. Jim said, "I just remember, Miss Linda," said,
"I had one big silver dollar, the only cent I had to my name." He
said, "I just knew that if I laid that down and took up some change,
they'd say, 'He took up more than he put in.'" So he said, "I just
bellied up [to] the table." And he said, "I walked down here and
plopped that thing good and hard," and said, but that's one dollar the
good Lord got that was begrudged!" (Laughing) See, I ought to write
a book. I know a million tales like that.
DR. CRAWFORD: You know, with some like that, it would be
a great book if we had some things like
that to tell.
MRS. BROWN: oh , yeah. I could tell you a million.
DR. CRAWFORD: The best things about Tennessee history
often don't get in the books. You know,
you've seen some very interesting things happen in the legislature
that have never been written, haven't you?
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Oh, it'd be a thousand things that have
escaped me. Might, once in a while some-
body' 11 say something, make me think of that, and I'll remember the
MRS. BROUN: Every time I ask Mr. Jim a question, he
says, "Well, let me tell you a little story."
So he tellsme some story that's related to the question that I asked,
something that happened years ago with so-and-so.
DR. CRAWFORD: Then you're the one that should write the
MRS. BROWN: I wish I could. I don't have the mentality
to write. My daughter's a writer.
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Well, some man wrote me a letter the other
day, a man named McMurtry . . . says "I'm
writing a book." Everybody's writing a book now. Says, "I'm writing
a book on things that have happened in the courtrooms of rural Tenn-
essee. And I wish you'd give me a statement of the things that you
consider the most amusing and the most. . . things that have taken
place in the courtroom." Well, thousands have taken place, of course,
but when you're in the heat of trying a law suit, and some witness
says something or does something that creates a scene or does some-
thing, you're so damn intent on what you're doing that you don't have
time to get into the act completely or remember to. . . So it is in
the Tennessee Legislature. During these many fights that we've had
in the Tennessee Legislature, political and otherwise, legislatively,
they were so damn tense and serious at the time that I just never took
the [time and] fully appreciated the comical side of some of them.
So I'm that way about this man writing the article. . . .
MRS. BROUN: I go with Mr. Jim to court all the time.
I wish you could hear him tell law students,
argue the case before he talks.
DR. CRAUFORD: Well, there is obviously a lot of experience
there. You've been practicing so long.
I was trying to remember. There is, let's see there is another old
attorney, not really old, either, but he's had a lot of experience,
and I'm trying to remember, I believe in his 80's, in Knoxville, that
I talked with, a criminal attorney over there. I'll think of his name
later, you know how it is. But there are some of these things that
have happened that need to be recorded. And I was asking about, we've
been going through Tennessee history, sort o^ by administrations. Ue
were up to Governor Cooper, Prentice Cooper. Do you remember any
occasions of Prentice Cooper's relations with people?
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Well, he, uh, that experience over there is
DR. CRAWFORD: With I.D. Beasley. . . .
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Yeah, with I.D. Beasley. Down at Murfrees-
boro he had an experience with a drop into
a hamburger joint or something, they were selling beer, he got into
it. He had some bad experience with the operators of that.
MRS. BROWN: He had some experience with Long Brown,
in Sparta that I had forgotten.
Long Brown and Sparta. Uncle Carroll.
But I forgot what it was. He came to Uncle
Carroll's funeral while he was. . . .
We were anti-Cooper, Beasley and Hanes and
I. So when he was inaugurated, or was about
to be inaugurated, after he was elected, about to go in, he [then]
started a campaign. I was down in Florida. He sent telegrams to all
the members-elect, wanting them to pledge themselves to have a 60-day
session of the legislature. Sent me one of the damn things, a tele-
gram down there. So I wrote him back and told him that I was for a
55-day session. (Laughing) Not going to let him differ!
MRS. BROWN: I'll go and leave ya'll alone.
DR. CRAWFORD: No, no. Please don't go.
SEANTOR CUMMINGS: Oh, well, he was, I don't know how to des-
cribe him, but he was ill-tempered. They
told a story on him about his telephone got out of whack, cause some-
body was, some repairmen were working, and they was, us, these repair-
men were working on each other, got some cross-circuit someway, to his
office. So this man on the pole rang to get his fellow-workman, some-
one, and, hell, got the governor's office. And well, the man said,
I don't know how it goes, the man said, and the voice answered back,
said, "This is Governor Cooper." He (the telephone repairman) said,
"Well, that's fine," he says, he said to him, says, "I heard about
the man in the asylum that said he was President Hoover or something."
And Governor Cooper says, "Who are you?" And by that time, the
man caught on that he had had a cross-connection, and. . . Cooper
spent day on day trying, got the telephone people, trying to make
them identify the man that had talked to him on the telephone
kidding him about. . . . (Laugh). Now, that sort of thing. Cooper
went through that all the time, about some porter or some guard at
the penitentiary, or flagman on the road. He'd get up an argument
with them, about some little shake-a-pin thing.
DR. CRAWFORD: Did he have trouble with someone at the
Capitol, one of the porters or someone there?
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Well, Leslie, that has been there for
years — Leslie was a guide around — worked
out of the governor's office as the Capitol guide, and so forth.
Oh yes, he got in — Leslie resigned. He got along with all the gov-
ernors. And was a popular person, a graduate of Tennessee State, or
A & I, it was back then, a very popular. . .
MRS. BROWN: Mr. Jim has given me some awful good
advice. I know, there was one particular
person that used to come here that was Mr. Jim's renter. Invariably
made me furious, he couldn't read and write or anything, but she al-
ways wanted to boss me. And Mr. Jim saw me out there one day real
mad, so he came out there and he said, "Linda, I want to teach you
a lesson." He said, "Now, when you let this person make you mad,
he said, "it's just exactly like me walking through Central State
Hospital and some of the patients calling me a bad name, and me get-
ting real mad and want to whip him." Said, "Now, you've gotmore sense
than that, so don't you let her make you mad." (Laughter)
DR. CRAWFORD: Well, now, Governor Cooper did that a lot,
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Yes. He married a mighty lovely lady f rom
Johnson City. They have some fine children,
but he was just born rich, and just didn't know how to fraternize
with ordinary people and be pleasant. His wife's a lovely lady.
DR. CRAWFORD: She's living in Shelbyville, now, I believe.
SENATOR CU1111INGS: She's living in Shelbyville. Very well-to-
do, he was. His daddy was rich. His dad-
dy was Speaker of the House, way back.
DR. CRAWFORD: Uh-huh. He was before your time, wasn't
SENATOR CUT5MINGS: Yeah — well, I just was a young man back —
uh, I don't know whose administration his
father was Speaker of the House in. I don't remember. But he was,
I don't know the word I want to use, he was, but he was hard to get
DR. CRAWFORD: Now, he was, he was defeated, or rather
he could not run again in '44. . .
SENATOR CUMMINGS: That's right.
DR. CRAWFORD: ... He had several terms. And, let's see,
Jim McCord was elected that year.
Do you remember anything about the elec-
tion of '46, when McCord was elected?
Yes, I remember — McCord was elected practi-
cally without opposition. He had been a
newspaper publisher at Lewisburg, and then was elected to Congress
and served two or three terms, unevent f ul, very pleasant, likeable
fellow, an auctioneer. And so he was elected and nominated, elected
governor practically without opposition. And Browning finally
defeated him on the sales tax issue.
I wanted to ask you about that because you
had an important part in the first sales
. . . When Jim McCord proposed it.
Yes. I did take an active part in that.
Who was it that was defeated because
of something about the sale of a — was it
tax in 'A3, wasn't it?
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Well, that was Browning. Browning got into
that. Yes, Mr. McCord advocated a sales
tax. I was opposed to it, and still am, opposed to a sales tax as
a major source of revenue, on the theory that, as between sales tax
and income tax, I think that sales tax is regressive and those of us
that make $5,000 a year pay taxes on every damn bit of it; somebody's
making $120,000 don't pay sales tax on a hell of a lot more than we
do, the groceries and so forth. I've always been against it. But
Mr. McCord advocated it very — and they had all sorts of figures about
what it would bring. Louisiana, and different states had passed it.
I was against it; but finally I said to them — Buck Headden was in the
legislature, he was the leader of the forces — they had said it'd raise
so many dollars. And had figures to prove it, statistics and every-
thing, and so forth, and I said, "Uell, I'll tell you what I'll do."
Looked like it was maybe going to pass anyway, but I was giving them
trouble about it. I says, "I'll tell you what I'll do." You all
ask — you say it's going to bring in how much? A million and a half
dollars?" "Yes." I says, "If you'll accept this amendment, I'll
relent." "All right, what is it?" They needed me awful bad, to get
it passed. I said, "We just [will] write an amendment that all, if
any, over the million and a half that you say it'll raise, the over-
age, we'll distribute it to the small counties." So they passed it,
and hell, it brought in a third more than they had said it would.
And we had a windfall in Cannon County.
DR. CRAWFORD: Well, did you think it would produce more
or were you just guessing it might?
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Well, I was satisfied. I had figures that
it would bring more than that. I had a figure that, my figures was
that it was going to bring a good deal more than that, and I was op-
posing it because it was going to bring more than the state needed.
That was one of the oppositions, and because I thought it was regres-
sive, too. And we'll now make a determined fight against it and had
them sort of, on a rail. So they accepted my amendment.
DR. CRA T JFORD: Let's see, the rural group opposed the
sales tax in '48.
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Yeah.
DR. CRAI-TORD: And you were one of the leaders, and it
was your amendment that they accepted.
SENATOR CUMMINGS: For the overage. That was my amendment
that gave the overage to smaller counties.
DR. CRAWFORD: Did you feel that the administration knew
it would produce more, and just wasn't. .
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Well, I'm not sure about that. They pro-
fessed to believe that it wouldn't do it,
and accepted my amendment, thought it amounted to nothing. They
claimed they thought it would. Yes, they were mistaken in their
estimate of what it would produce. So Mr. McCord got it passed, and
then he was a candidate. And Browning ran against him. And Mr.
McCord was going about all over the state, campaigning and asking
for re-election. He would pass through these damn little towns and
they'd throw pennies at him out of the street, and so forth. And he
was a pood man, but he advocated an unpopular sales tax.
DR. CRAWFORD: Uh-huh. You think that was the main factor
in his defeat in '48?
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Yes. And Browning's popularity. Browning
had, first from, oh, say, it was a military
record that maybe glorified him a little bit.
DR. CRAWFORD: Well, he had military records in two wars,
of course. How did Mr. Crump feel about that,
when Browning came back to run again against his candidate, McCord?
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Well, he was against it, oh yes. He was
against it. He had supported him when he
was first elected against Burgin Dossett, given him that tremendous
majority in Shelby County. They fell out, and the unit bill was
DR. CRAWFORD: Why do you suppose Mr. Crump supported him
in his campaign way back in '36?
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Because he saw he was going to be elected.
He concluded, his polls and everything
showed him;, that Browning was going to be elected over Dossett. And
he made overtures and went into the Browning camp in the last days
of the campaign, and gave him his tremendous majority over Dossett.
And he got on a bandwagon to save, salvage something out of the cam-
paign rather than be defeated with Dossett.
DR. CRAWFORD: Uh-huh. Well, Burgirt Dossett was very pop-
ular in some places, wasn't he?
SENATOR CDTDIINGS: Oh yes, yes. He'd been Commissioner of
Education and was president of the, I think
it was president, of the Tennessee Alumni Association, a very popular
man, Burgin Dossett was.
DR. CRAWFORD: He had played football, I think, at the
University of Tennessee, and was he pres-
ident of one of the colleges at one time?
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Yes. After that he was president of the
East Tennessee College, yeah. I pre-
vailed on Browning, after Crump and Browning fell out, and Browning
had his very sound and popular state finance bill that provided that
the state should not go into deficit spending. And so I had sup-
ported him on that, and when a vacancy came, I can't remember the
persons involved, but a vacancy came in the presidency of the college
at Johnson City. I went to bat for — I had, as I told you, I had be-
come allied with — I supported Dossett. But in this fight, when he
and Crump and lesser of people I hadn't gotten along with politically,
when Crump and Browning got at loggerheads, I, at Browning's invi-
tation, took up his state refinancing bill in the Senate, and led
the fight, and got that enacted. And I became a very popular man
with the Browning administration, because of my support of, helping
him salvage his thing after Crump had turned against ....
him. So, when the vacancy came up for appointment of a supporter of
Dossett for president, I went to bat f or Dossett and Browning supported
him for the presidency of that thing, that institution. So we were
jumping from one to the other, depending on who you disliked most.
And keeping affiliation, a general objective in my mind was, as I said,
I was thinking about the rural county funds for the appropriations, so
I got along all right with Browning.
DR. CRAWFORD: I don't mean to keep you too long without
a break. . .
SENATOR CUMMINGS: No, you're not keeping. . . 1 very seldom. .
I don't. . . you may be getting hungry.
Whenever you get ready, I'm . . . but as far as me, having a noonday
meal, I used to say, if I saved that much I practiced it for economy
more than anything else, just not eat it — lunch.
DR. CRAWFORD: It is economy. Now, didn't people use to
carry a sandwich and ride a train up to the
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Oh yes. Yes sir, yes sir. Go out in the
hall. My great granddaddy was the president
of a bank here and lived over in the part down under the hill where
that man's looking. So he rode horseback to Woodbury, with three
or four ears of corn tied to his saddle to feed his nag on and Warren
brought his own lunch. Wasn't any restaurants in Woodbury, had to ,
if you had to stay.
DR. CRAUFORD: Uh-huh. I've heard about times like that
in the General Assembly.
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Oh yes, it — back in those days it was a
f our-dollar-a-day job. Now they get $3^00
or something for a salary, for annual salary. Back in those days
we got $4 a day and mileage to and from, 8c a mile, I think it was.
And you could rent a room at the Noel Hotel, for $2 a day, half of
your salary. So we hadn't money — eat on the other $2 a day. People
that came from a long distance, many of them — people came from a
short distance would take their lunches, and so forth.
DR. CRAUFORD: I have heard from a few of your neighbors
about days back then. Let's see, John
Anderson, I believe, over — is he in this county or in Putnam County?
SENATOR CUMMINGS: He's in Putnam.
DR. CRAUFORD: Uh-huh. But close to the line.
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Yeah.
DR. CRAWFORD: And Robert Boyd, over in Warren County,
I've talked to.
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Yeah. Well, during one session of the
legislature, I.D. Beaseley and I had a
little rathole room in the annex to the Hermitage Hotel. Bill Cald-
well was manager, and he gave us the monthly rate. You could go in the
back way and go up to this annex on the south boulevard. And we met at the Elks'
Club, all the legislators operated in that section.
So anyway, we was rooming there, and we had a fine friend that
was in the grocery business, the wholesale grocery business. And
over at the Elks' Club we was taking some drinks, and this friend of
ours said, "I'm going out here to Mount Juliet, someplace on a trip.
You all go out there with me." So we went, and I guess we took an-
other drink or two along the way, I don't remember just all about it,
but he got whatever he was doing out there and came back. "Well,"
he says, "I want to carry you by my wholesale house." McBrothers was
his name, had a big wholesale house. So he carried us by there. We 1
said, "All right," it was just — we didn't have anything — got out and
went in. He got us one of those carts — electric or motor carts some-
where. Sailed down through that place, damn stacks of canned peaches
and everything as high as — he and I was looking every minute for him
to turn one of those corners and hang the thing in there and tumble
down on, down on us. Finally we got away; anyway, he carried us back
to our room and left us, "Good night," well, we had a good time.
Had a fine night out, doing a little playing, fancy drinking and
going on, right at Christmas time, money was awfully scarce. Mack
was well-to-do, a wholesale grocers' fund person. So I.D. and I,
recess was on, fixing to come home for Christmas.
Next morning we were laying up there, maybe our heads a little
swelled — that helps! Somebody knocked on the door and a couple of
people at the door, said "is this Mr. Cummings ' room?" "Yes." "Mr.
Beasley?" "Yes." Said, "Well," — they had on plaid coats, and such —
said, "Well, Mr. McBrothers has sent Mr. Beasley and Mr. Cummings a
couple of cartons here," all wrapped up in brown paper, taped up and
everything. And we said, "Fine, bring it right in, put it down." And
we had no doubt but that Mack had sent us a half-case of whiskey
apiece for Christmas, to bring home. So we laid back down and finally
I said, "Well, I.D., damn if I'm not going to get up and open my case
and take a drink. I'm feeling pretty bad, I believe I need a drink."
He said, "Well, all right," he'd just get up with me. So we got up
and got, I opened up the thing, fixing to take a drink out of that,
hell, money was the scarcest thing there was around, and we was just
thinking about what we were going to do for Christmas whiskey. And
Mack, bless his heart, had sent us up just — there was Santa Claus,
if there ever was one, so we got up, getting up and I.D. was saying,
"That damn Mack McBrothers," said, "he's a fine damn man. Isn't
it fine to have a friend like McBrothers?" And we bragged on him —
what a great man Mack was, got up and opened that, and you know what
it was? Peaches! (Laughter) I.D. says, "That son of a bitch. He
sent peaches here and. . ."so we went on back that day for lunch,
eating a sandwich, something over there at the Elks' Club. I saw
Mack coming and I said to those sitting at the table, I says, "I.D.,
tell these boys at the table with us about what kind of experience
we had with McBrothers." So, I.D. cut the corners and told what kind
of a son of a bitch he was, disappointing us about that. . . Mack walked
right up behind and listened at him tell about what it was. (Laughter)
Hack was a fine person.
DR. CRAWFORD: Well, people did now and then give members
of the legislature gifts. . .
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Oh, yes. I'll have to tell this one about —
uh, I served the legislature with Mr. Lem
Motlow, uh Reagor — you won't know who Reagor Motlow is?
DR. CRAWFORD: Yes, sir — a senator who just died.
SENATOR CUMMINGS: He just died the other day. Well, his father
was named Mr. Lem Motlow. Mr. Lem Motlow was
the nephew of Jack Daniel^, the founder of the distillery, and Mr.
Lem came to the legislature, and I served with him. I. D. and I were
members. And among the other people that were members of the legis-
lature, was Weldon White, nicest kind of fellow, very straight-laced
and didn't want to, shunned the appearance of any kind of evil. I.D.
and I weren't quite that straight-laced.
And so, about one Friday, when the legislature was fixing to
adjourn, I.D. and I were rooming together up there, and Mr. Lem Mot-
low came up and said, "Jim and I.D. , I brought you a fifth of my
finest Jack Daniels. And I bought three: I bought one for you, I.D.,
and one for Jim, and one for Weldon White. Where is Weldon?" Well,
we said, "We don't know where he is." He said, "Well, how about just
leaving Weldon's fifth here with ya '11, and will you give it to him?"
"Oh yeah, "(we '11 play the con game.) Hell, we never mentioned it. We
didn't mention it to Weldon for some time, finally told him about it.
He says, "Well, I don't believe I'll take it," he said, Weldon did.
MRS. BROWN: 'Course he's already drunk. . . .
SENATOR CUMMINGS: No, we never told Mr. Lem but what we gave
it to him.
MRS. BROWN: 'Course when you told Weldon, it had already
been drunk up, hadn't it?
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Oh, yeah, oh yeah, he was awfully late. But
Weldon's a mighty nice fellow. But, oh, it
wasn't out of the ordinary and, as far as I was concerned, I had my
own course of legislative practice. Anybody wanted to give me a fifth
of whiskey, I was much obliged to them, yeah.
DR. CRAWFORD: So it's an old Tennessee tradition.
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Oh, yeah.
MRS. BROWN: Mr. Jim never had any desire to run for
governor, and I always wanted to, but he
never had any desire to, because I think it would, he could have been
elected in a landslide.
SENATOR CUMMINGS: It - s a big state> and it takes & ±Qt Qf
money. Oh, I think, I think I could have
been elected to Congress two or three different times.
DR. CRAWFORD: I would guess so, with the support you had.
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Because the district that I represented
I IRS. BROWN: Mr. Jim, I was reading this "unholy trinity"
article just now, again. And it said you
were driving a '57 Ford, and it talked about [it] kind of ugly. i s that
the car we're still driving?
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Oh, no. No, that was — I've had two or three
cars in my lifetime.
Have you? (Laughter)
I drive him — what are we driving now?
Yeah. . .
Oh, it's just ten years old, car I now
own. . . practically new.
'Course you can't open the doors. (Laughter)
Well, I never was afraid to be seen coming
in or going out of the night spots, or
drinking at the bar, or doing anything else.
MRS. BROWN: I always begged Mr. Jim to get a low
license plate, like Number 2. You know why
he wouldn't do it? He says, this is the story, you mind if I tell it?
I IRS. BROWN:
SENATOR CUMMINGS: No, I'll tell it.
MRS. BROWN: You can do it better than I can.
SENATOR CUMMINGS: I said I was going back and forth to Nash-
ville. I was Secretary of State, Speaker,
had license plate Number 2 at one time, and Number 4 when I was Speak-
er. And I never would take it and put it on my car. Somebody asked
me one day, "Why don't you put this low number on your car?" And I
said, "Hell, I, on my way home, I stop at beer places, and I don't
want somebody looking and saying, 'Well, I see Jim Cummings has closed
down on us. ' "
MRS. BROWN: But tell him where you learned that lesson
when you were a little boy.
SENATOR CUMMINGS: I caught on to that from my experience when
I was a boy — a young man, rather. There
was a friend of mine had a spotted horse, the only one there was in
this country. And there were places of disrepute, bootlegging places,
and places of worse repute, immorality, to some extent, promiscuous
places. . . .
DR. CRAWFORD: Even in Cannon County.
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Even in Cannon County. And they were
scattered about different places. So this man
he had this spotted — everybody went horseback, by the way — so, if I
passed a place sometime, I'd say, "Well, I see Marion Thorpe's fre-
quenting that place tonight." I'd see that spotted horse, wasn't
any question about who it was, his was the only spotted horse there
was in the country. I learned not to identify yourself, leave out-
side an identification that you're on the inside of a place of dis-
MRS. BROWN: Mr. Jim, can I tell him the story, about
the time you had the lawsuit about this
man frequenting this house of ill repute? Mr. Jim had Sam on the
witness stand. He said, "Now, Sam, on such-and-such a night, were
you frequenting this place?" Sam says, "Oh, no sir, Mr. Jim, I
wasn't frequenting. All I was doing was picking my banjo. I was
not frequenting." (Laughter)
SENATOR CUMMINGS: He thought that word "frequented" meant
that he was there doing something immoral.
He denied frequenting it very vividly, said, "Oh, I was just out
there playing the guitar!" Yeah. Courtroom stuff. I'll try to
remember that. I'll tell, damn if I don't tell McMurtry that story.
That's a good story.
MRS. BROWN: I wanted to tell it when I made that speech
in Murf reesboro. But George was a little
bit afraid for me to, he was afraid it might be a little bit risque,
and I didn't tell it.
DR. CRAWFORD: That would be a good one to send in.
Mrs. Brown: I've told several of them back in Murfrees-
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Well, I've had a lot of fine experiences,
and I like to think, that with all the rough-
and-tumble, knock-down, drag-out fights, and sometimes sound like there
was great animosity and so forth. I like to think that in all these
years that I've been in the Tennessee Legislature, that the people with
whom I served have been my friends.
MRS. BROWN: Oh, they have. You've — you've made them —
you've always told me to make new friends
all the time, because you'll outlive yours.
SENATOR CUMMINGS: That's what someone asked me, I said, "Any
enemies I've ever had, I've outlived them.
So I don't have anybody left except friends now.
You've been making more friends lately.
You've been making more friends lately,
Well, I've just been losing some by death.
No, I haven't made many in the last few
years. I haven't been, occupied with, get along with the young folks
that grow up, try to keep in touch with them, best I can. But I've
had a very pleasant experience in my political and professional life.
Got along fine, enjoyed life.
DR. CRAWFORD: You've generally been happy with your
profession and your town?
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Every day I— yes, I have been. Pracr-
ticed law and did a little farming, fooled
around, did a little fishing.
DR. CRAWFORD: You make anyone want to live there, in
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Somebody asked me one time, says, "When
do you take your vacation?" I says, "Hell,
I take a part of it every day, because it takes you too long to get
over one of these week's vacation."
MRS. BROWN: Tell him the story about Clint Beasley,
your good friend. See, Mr. Jim wants to
retire, but I won't let him retire.
DR. CRAWFORD: He told me one about I.D. Beasley.
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Well, Clint, his older brother, was named
Judge Clint Beasley, the county judge over
in Smith County for years and years. So he retired, got him a rocking
chair and retired, Judge Beasley did, and some fellow says, "Judge,
I want to ask you a question." Says, "You been active all the days
of your life, public life, and everything, and retiring. What the
hell do you do with yourself all day?" He says, "I'm busy all day
every day." He says, "Doing what?" Says, "Well, I spend about
half my time trying to think of somebody's name, and the other half
going to urinate. Don't have a dull moment, busy all the time."
Well, I think you're doing well to stay
busy. I believe that's really good for
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Oh yes.
MRS. BROWN: Oh, I think it is too. I don't want him
to quit at all. He's talked about it,
but — why, we had, what, four law suits last week in other towns.
DR. CRAWFORD: Well, it's a beautiful state, and it's
good to travel around a little.
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Well, somebody comes in here with, every
day, wanting a damn birth certificate
or something. They've got the erroneous name on their birth cer-
tificate, and they're having trouble getting it corrected, so he'll
take a couple of hours. . .
It took us three hours yesterday to get
that one. . .
Three hours. Well, everybody was here,
from way up distant part of the county
and sat here till I got through trying lawsuits at the courthouse,
came on, I said, well, so, during the noon hour yesterday we worked
that thing out, filed a petition for them, got it all certified and
sent it off. I spend a lot of time helping people who've been my
friends through the years and supported me, and so forth. I tell
somebody I have the best non-paying practice in the whole country.
MRS. BROWN: That's true.
SENATOR CUMMINGS: So, a good deal of my time is spent try-
ing to help somebody get Social Security,
or, you know. . .
something done . .
We spend two-thirds of our time helping
people do free things.
Get on Social Security, or getting their
birth certificate figured out, or getting
MRS. BROWN: Getting people jobs.
SENATOR CUMMINGS: The rest of it, we stay in the courthouse,
DR. CRAWFORD: I've heard that Senator Cummings at one
time had about a fourth of the people
here placed in jobs, in the county.
Well, we've heard from . . .
He got my husband postmaster a few years
Governor McCord tells a story that I went
with him, during Governor McCord 's admin-
istration,! was accompanying him from Smithville to Woodbury. He'd
been and made a speech at Smithville and coming to Woodbury to make
a speech. And I was directing traffic; I was navigating the trip.
And he claims that we got up here to Short Mountain country, that
I said, "Now, this is the way we're going to have to get right through
here, and down this way." And just ran into a damn road that you
you couldn't get over, finally all of us got stuck and everything.
He come to find out later that that was a road that I was trying to
get him to put on the program. And I gave him a trip on it. He
said he promised to have it fixed. And He did.
MRS. BROWN: (Laughing) Well, you were smart taking
him right on the old road.
Governor McCord was a nice person.
Mr. Jim, you got George his first job
under Governor McCord, with the state.
Yes sir — I'd forgotten about it.
Who has been the most interesting gover-
nor you've ever known now?
Why do you say that? You've known all
of them since A. H. Roberts.
I've known a lot of them since Roberts.
I've been there, I was still working in
the comptroller's office when Peay came in. And, well, he was the
most humane, and personable — oh, I hate to say that about — Ellington
was very fine. Mr. McAlister was very good, but he was deaf; he
couldn't hear you talk. Mr. McCord was just as nice as he could be,
and Horton — they're all, all right. Cooper's the most, uh, ill-tem-
pered one amongst them. They've all been, all — I like them all, and
managed to get along with all of them pretty well.
DR. CRAWFORD: Well, let's see. You were there both
who is that, Governor Dunn
times when Ellington was governor, weren't
You were Secretary of State under Elling-
ton, weren't you?
Oh yeah, Browning.
Now, you saw a Dig change in 1^70 when a Re-
publican governor, Winfield Dunn, was elec-
I served two years after he was in. And
he was a very likeable fellow.
Well, now, he was a Republican, and that
was really different, wasn't it?
How did he get along with the General
Good. Right here in this little news-
paper thing under Jefferson's picture,
and Mrs. Dunn?
Yes. And Mr. Jim.
That's all he's known as, just Mr. Jim.
Now, the next one, right over there. Who
is that governor right there on the next ore with,
On the left, on that spring thing right
No, the framed thing over there. That's
not framed. On the left corner.
Oh, this is Governor Dunn.
That's Dunn and Joe Evins?
Uh-huh. The inauguration. That's where
they had the party for him. And that's
SENATOR CUMMINGS: And this is Ellington over on the other.
DR. CRAWFORD: Well, I know that when Governor Dunn came
in, it was different, having a Republican
governor in. Was the governor's office still able to work all right
with the General Assembly?
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Oh yeah. He was very good in that res-
pect. He got along. He kept oil poured
on, covered the waters pretty well, Dunn did. Yes, I liked him very
much. In fact, I liked them all. I have a hard time figuring out
somebody I don't like.
I've never heard you tell me that you
Maybe that's why you have so many friends,
because you've liked people.
Well, at least I don't get up any argu-
ments. I am liked in the courtroom.
And in the legislative halls, where they disagree without being dis-
agreeable, they say, or something worked like that.
DR. CRAWFORD: I know you were out of office when that
happened, but do you think the legislature
had changed a lot before Governor Blanton came in, in 1975?
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Yes, there has been, during the last few
administrations, a growing desire and
effort and practice, amongst members of the legislature, to be more
independent of the influence of the Governor's office, for good or
DR. CRAWFORD: Was the legislature pretty much under the
governor's control, under Clement and Ell-
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Well, not too much under control.
They were more cooperative, now for good
or bad, you figure that out for yourself.
DR. CRAWFORD: Would an administration bill most likely
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Yes, they took more pains and trouble to
cultivate a working relationship with the
legislature than some of the other governors had. And I, I had a
thought that I wanted to say. Now, if you have a governor, a state
administration, with the resources, records, statistics, finger on the
pulse, state operations and some man named Willie Jones over here in
DeKalb County or up in Pickett County, or up in Hancock County, has
been a good Justice of the Peace up there maybe or a nice merchant,
runs for the legislature, and comes down there, he don't have any
more idea than a goose what ought to be done. The governor has made
a campaign advocating certain principles and certain things. For him
to come down there and say, "Nov;, listen here, Governor, you're Governor,
but I'm elected for the people of Hancock County. And I'm going to
be my own man, and I'm going to help run this government," and he
don't know a damn thing about what he's doing. He's necessarily de-
pendent upon the governor, and if the governor has made a campaign,
been elected to office on that campaign, it's not like being a member
of congress where you've had long continuity in office, had a staff,
and fairly familiar with it. And these damn legislators proposing
to be independent of the state administration, they frequently cause
more trouble than they correct. And it's not necessarily bad that
we have the leadership from the governor's office. But if he's a
bad man, of course it's a bad thing.
DR. CRAWFORD: Why was it, then, that Governor Blanton
had so much trouble with the legislature
when he came back? You know, he'd been in the legislature with you,
in the '60' s.
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Well now, when he came into the office,
he, in a measure, not in the same way,
but in a measure, he followed the same sort of general practices that
he did with the press. If he was in disagreement with somebody about
something, he expressed himself, and challenged them, instead of
saying, "Let's sit down and reason together." Why, he hasn't uh,
temperized with them a bit. So he just got himself, with many members
of the legislature, same attitude and relationship between them he did
with the press. Now, does that answer your question?
And it's my opinion.
Uh-huh. Well, you've made it a habit to
get along with the press and with. . .
And with governors if I could.
Uh-huh. Well, did you ever have trouble
with any governors?
Yeah. Most of the governors, when the
legislature met, and by the way, I maybe
had not supported him. I voted against more, I voted for more defeated
candidates for governor than any man living, I guess.
DR. CRAWFORD: (Laughing) And won more yourself.
SENATOR CUMMINGS: But when the legislature met, and they
had a program, and I was in the legis-
lature on my own, it wouldn't be very long until the occasion would
arise that they'd want to sit down and talk with me about their pro-
gram. And I'd help to try to mold it, meet the things that I con-
sidered paramount. And if I could persuade him to adopt that and
put that into his fiscal program, I'd help him pass the package. And
in that way I got to be on good terms with the governor, while we
were helping each other. You don't have to surrender to get along.
You just simply have to reason together and work out something that's
Well, most governors are willing to cooper-
ate, to some extent.
Maybe not all, but most of them.
Now, Cooper didn't feel the need for that
because he had Mr. Crump squarely behind
Well, Mr. Crump supported some other
governors too, you know.
Oh yeah .
Why did Trentice Cooper feel so much
more independent when he had Mr. Crump's
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Well, because he had the votes. He didn't
have to worry about political effect of what
he did. Had Mr. Crump to take care of that.
DR. CRAWFORD: You know, that's true. That was Crump's
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Yeah. He was at his height right then.
DR. CRAWFORD: And he started declining in power in the
next administration, under James McCord.
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Yeah.
DR. CRAWFORD: I know we've left out a lot of interesting
things, Senator Cuinmings . Is there any-
thing that I haven't thought to ask you that would be good.
SENATOR CUMMINGS: At the convening of one of the legislature,
I'll tell you this. Pete Hanes wanted to
be Speaker. And Mr. Crump was supporting Jim Corn, from Bradley
County. He was a fine fellow, Jim Corn was, a good legislator. But
Mr. Crump had gotten so powerful that he, during the holidays went
up to the races someplace while the legislature was getting ready to
meet, figuring all he had to do was come down the day before the
legislature, crack the whip, elect his man as Speaker. I. D. and
I and several more, Leon Gilbert, we were wanting to elect Pete , Speaker,
And we got enough signed up that he was, just lacked one or two having
enough in the caucus to be nominated. And there was a man in the
legislature from Hamilton County, a blind man earned Coleman. Always
got elected because of his handicap and because of his advocacy of
services for the blind. And that's all he was in the legislature
for, was to get to be chairman of the Commission for the Blind, and
have that. And so he managed to get along with Mr. Crump best he could,
So we was wanting to elect Pete Hanes; Mr. Crump was out of town;
we were just in striking distance, just lacked a couple of votes of
having Pete put over. So I. D. Beasley had the capacity of mimicking
anybody in voice, even Cordell Hull.
MRS. BROIJN: Men and women!
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Men or women. So we was sitting up in that
Hermitage Hotel. The caucus was about to
cone on. Mr. Crump was up in Indiana, racing. Lacked two votes, we
were just wondering where we could get them. I. D. says, "I tell
you what I'll do. I'll call up Coleman, the blind man." Son of a
bitch ought to been put behind the bars. So, he could talk just like
Mr. Frank [Rice]. Well, you couldn't tell it — you couldn't. And so,
Frank was an Italian-bred fellow; he talked with a very distinct voice.
So I. D. got Mr. Coleman on, knowing that Coleman would do anything
to please the Crump organization. So I. D. got him on the telephone
and said, "Hello, Coley?" And he said, "Hello, Mr. Rice." See, he
didn't even have to say, "This is Frank Rice." He says, "Hello, Mr.
Rice, what is it?" Says, "We 11, you've always been our friend and I
thought I'd better call you and tell you what the lay of the land
is around here." "What, what, Mr. Rice?" He says, "Well, it looks
like this Pete Hanes has got this governship, I mean this speaker-
ship and gone on." Says, "Well, I thought ya'll were voting Jim
Corn." "Well, he said, "we were." Just like that, "we were," but says,
"he's got it and gone. I just thought I'd call you in time for you
to get on the bandwagon." "All right, if you say so." "Well", he
said, Mr. Rice talking, says, "Well, you get hold of your two-or three
delegation and get them all lined up." So that night, in the night's
paper, it came out, said, "Hamilton delegation has pledged its sup-
port to Pete Hanes." And so they elected Pete. (Laughter) By a
fault on a blind man.
MRS. BROWN: Yeah, by a fault. Yeah, that was awful.
Mr. Jim, tell him, talking about I. D.
mimicking people so.
He did it all the time.
But what was he, you and him in your
hotel room one night, knocking on the
Oh, yeah, Linda wants to get intb these
Well, he's not going to publish this.
But it would help Tennessee history because
that's the kind of thing that is usually not
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Well, I. D. and I roomed together for years.
We were rooming at the Andrew Jackson Hotel,
and the walls were thinner than my walls in there, between the rooms.
The Andrew Jackson Hotel wasn't sturdily built.
So, we were there one night, and I.D. — my voice is a little
high like a woman, to some extent, not feminine at all, you know,
but a little high-pitched. So I. D. had gone to our room. We were
in there talking about things. So there were a couple of Jewish fel-
lows in the next room that heard our voices and thought we were two
women in there talking. They knocked on the wall. In a minute,
I.D. talked back two knocks. And they knocked back three knocks.
He knocked back three knocks, a little harder, and so the telephone
He said, "We're in Room 324 right next here, just calling you
up, heard your voice there. We're from out of town, going through
Nashville on our way to San Francisco, or someplace. Heard your
voices, thought maybe you girls might want to come in, take a drink
Well, I. D. was quick to be able to — well, I. D. talked just
like a woman. He said, "No, we're strangers here. Our husbands are
railroad men and they are on a run to St. Louis." He said, "We're
just spending the night. We're not use to being around a hotel. We're
afraid to. . ."
"Ah, it's all right, come on in. Don't be afraid of these Jewish
Well, finally, I. D. said, "Well, ya'll just come in our room."
"Well," they hesitated about that to some extent, but they finally
said, "All right."
I. D.'s talking, and said, "Just come and give three raps on the
door and everthing'll be all right."
So in a few minutes, one, two, three raps came on the door. I.
D. went to the door and says, in a deep voice, "What are you son-of-
a-bitches doing knocking on this door right here? Our wives are in
here, and what are you knocking on this door for?" Goddam, these
Jewish bodys scurried down that hall, and the traction when they
turned the corner to get [on] the elevator. They went down and checked
out, got their things and left! Byrd, what's his name, the uh. . .
MRS. BROWN: Manager.
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Manager of the hotel saw us the next
morning, [andl said, "What the hell did
ya'll do to those fellas. . .? (Laughter) Those nice fellasJ You ran
two of our people out of the hotel! They came down here and checked out."
I. D. could do that! He could mimic anybody. He did Governor Peay .
He got Coleman to vote against a bill once that Peay wanted him to
vote for, by meeting him on the Capitol steps and saying, "This is
the governor. "Hello, Coleman."
"House Bill Number 381 's coming up this afternoon on the cal-
endar. I wish you'd vote for that."
"Why, Governor, I thought you was against that."
"Well, I was, but I've changed my viewpoint."
And, "Well, I. D. Beasley's sponsoring that bill."
"I know it, but that's all right. You go on and — . " So the
bill came up and passed with one vote. Coleman voted for it, and
then he [saw the real governor] said, "Well, Governor, you told me you
wanted me to vote for it." (Laughter)
I IRS. BROWN:
SENATOR CUMMINGS :
Did Mr. Jim tell you about the governor
use to hide their memo pads from Mr. Jim
Oh, Ellington said that.
No, what happened with that?
Well, Mr. Jim, tell him what ya'll wanted
They accused [us]. I never did do that?
Well, I know you didn't.
Jim Bomar was Speaker. I. D.'d be against
some bill, so they said that he ussto go
and take some memo pads out of the governor's office. And when the
bill was about to come up, I.D.'d go out in the hall, and write a
little note to some member who was going to vote against it. "Could
you come down to my office a minute? Signed, Buford." Uell, the
page would carry it in there and lay it on the man's desk, and we
would see the man get up and ease out. Goddam, right in the heat of
the battle when they're fixing to call roll. The governor had
sent for him, so he'd go down, get down there, and wait out in the
waiting room, wait ten or fifteen minutes and finally get in, and say,
"Governor, what is it?"
"What is it?" says the Governor.
Says, "Uell, you wrote me a note that you wanted to see me."
Ellington say. "Listen, you go back and read that — that I. D.
Beasley's written you that note." Finally got back up there, the
damn bill had already passed. (Laughter) That's what they tell me.
MRS. BROWN: It's in this article right here.
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Oh, it is?
MRS. BROWN: Yeah, it is.
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Ellington said that.
MRS. BROWN: Yeah.
DR. CRAWFORD: Well, I expect things like that have been
known to happen there.
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Now, there was some thousands of things.
MRS. BROWN: [Reading from newspaper article] "Few there
would challenge Hanes, Beasley, Cummings ,
and even fewer disliked them. But many say the easiest one to like
is James Harvey Cummings."
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Said what, honey?
MRS. BROWN: "Many say that the easiest one to like of
the three was James Harvey Cummings."
That sounds reasonable. So, I guess they
not only ran the state, but they enjoyed it.
They certainly did.
Legislators now have gotten to be better
statesmen than they use to be.
But they may not have much fun.
Don't have as much fun.
Here this is about the guy who said when
they took that picture of him when he was
asleep. This is in here, Mr. Jim.
What is that, about the memos? Huh?
No, it's about the picture that's in there
when you were asleep.
Oh, yeah. What does it say?
It say, "I want to assure you that, while
I may have napped a bit during the hearing,
I was not asleep when this bill was drafted. And I will not be asleep
when we vote on it. If you'll look real close at this bill, you'll see
my fingerprints on Section 26."
SENATOR CUMMINGS: Well, they all enjoyed it instead of
getting up a damn fuss with the photographer,
and so forth. Why, so, they wrote a nice article about it.
DR. CRAWFORD: You know, that helps. Anyone can do some-
thing pretty good with criticism. You
know, Estes Kefauver, was criticized. Boss Crump called him a pet
SENATOR CUMMIHGS: Well, everyone called him a pet coon and
they will, you know, [in! damn fool cam-
MRS. BROWN: Well, is that where Estes started wear-
ing that coonskin hat?
SENATOR CU1C1INGS: Oh, Kefauver, Estes, instead of taking
offense at being likened to a pet coon,
he just wore him a coonskin hat.
talized on it.
He said, he might be a pet coon, but he
wasn't Boss Crump's pet coon.
That's right, he says now, he said, "I
believe I'm everybody's guy." He capi-
And did real well, too. Well, let's
see, I was just trying to see here. I
may have run this tape off. We have time for one more story, anyway.
Do you think of any other one, now, that tells how things work in
Tennessee? Senator cummings, you've added a great deal to the know-
ledge about Tennessee. And I thought I knew quite a lot. But there's
no one who knows as much as the man who's lived through it.
SENATOR CUMMINGS: 'Course I'd sorry, now, if I'd known I
was going to get to be a state figure
back during some of these times, I'd have kept up daily on a lot of
things, and so forth. But I haven't — what I'm telling you is just
things that I recall, or things that have been written.
I IRS. BROWN: He never writes a s-peech out when he
has to make speeches. It's strictly off
the cuff every time. He doesn't study about it. He just gets up*
DR. CRAWFORD: Well, that's one of the advantages of this
kind of interview, too, you see. You didn't
keep a daily log or diary, but we can get a few of these things that
you did. We have them for a record. Well Senator Cummings , thank
you very much.
^ SEPT 88